« October 2012 | Main | December 2012 »



A few weeks ago my evening train stopped briefly on the Western Avenue viaduct in McKinley Park (between 36th Street and Archer Avenue), and I was very pleased to capture this image. The bumps on the diagonal are rivets in the steel walls that line the edges of the overpass (the dark tails are shadows from the late-afternoon sun), the square with the one curved corner is a patch of dirt and dead grass next to the entrance to a Jewel supermarket parking lot, and the whitish blur at the upper right is a passing car. The only clearly recognizable, non-abstract element here is the sewer cover near the upper edge of the photo.

November 30, 2012 in Chicago Observations, Photography | Permalink | Comments (0)

"...what people in Holt thought she would have to be..."

I really like this opening paragraph of the second section of Kent Haruf's Where You Once Belonged. The narrator describes Jessie, the sudden bride of the protagonist Burdette; Burdette both first met and married her during a weekend business trip to Tulsa, thus forsaking Wanda Jo Evans, his sainted girlfriend of eight years.
She was the exact opposite of what people in Holt thought she would be. That is, she was the exact opposite of what people in Holt thought she would have to be. If Burdette was going to marry her, if he was going to leave someone as beautiful and selfless and long-suffering as Wanda Jo Evans was and then marry someone else, she would have to be something. At the very least she would have to be some husky-voiced Oklahoma version of Jayne Mansfield or Marilyn Monroe.
But Jessie soon proves to be the opposite - quiet, reserved, introverted - and it's clear that Burdette will soon tire of her, rethink his impulsive act and move on.

(The scene is set in 1971, when Jayne Mansfield references were still relevant. Marilyn, of course, is timeless, with references to her own desirability likely to remain appropriate for the indefinite future. I'm imagining Marilyn with a husky Oklahoma drawl. Rowwwwl.)

November 29, 2012 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

News of the Weird


Okay, this has to be the weirdest baseball story I've ever heard: the home run that never came back down.
The right fielder, second baseman, and center fielder all ran toward where they thought the fly ball would come down. Upon each man losing sight of the ball, all ducked, covering their heads. They tried to follow the play from their cringes, and then came out of their cringes. No one saw the ball land. No one could find the ball. Joe Wallis hesitantly rounded the bases. The umpire upheld the notion that Wallis had hit a home run.
And it was hit by none other than my childhood baseball antihero, Tarzan Joe Wallis. Despite it being a low-level Class A game in 1974, there were many still-familiar names involved: Garry Templeton, Bruce Sutter, Donnie Moore, and future top college basketball coach Lon Kruger.

(Via Cardboard Gods.)

November 29, 2012 in Sports | Permalink | Comments (0)

"...sometimes lit butts flickered out, forgotten, in the ashtray after his sixth or seventh beer..."

Dmitry Samarov shares some memories of the daytime regulars at an old dive bar in Roscoe Village. Here is his touching sketch of Tommy, a down-and-outer from Kentucky:
Stray strands of Top tobacco would collect around him as the afternoon turned to night; sometimes lit butts flickered out, forgotten, in the ashtray after his sixth or seventh beer. He'd rest his elbows on the bar and stretch his back and drowse, waking occasionally to confirm that everything was as he'd left it.

It wasn't ever clear where he lived, but odds are it was some underpass away from the wind that whips this city's streets. He'd refuse offers of food with a low-key politeness; despite being in a bad way, there were still lows he wouldn't sink to. Some shred of pride he had to maintain to keep going.

He'd leave as the late-night crowd filled the place for what passed for a rush, returning after closing time. After I threw the empties into the dumpster, restocked the beer, and wiped down the bar, he'd go get the mop and bucket from the ladies' bathroom. Passing its gray threadbare head over the chipped and worn black and red linoleum tile earned him tomorrow's bottomless beer stein. Night after day after night.
I lived a few blocks from there during the mid-1990s, but never drank in the neighborhood and don't remember the bar - seems like I missed out. I'm still meaning to read Samarov's Hack: Stories from a Chicago Cab.

November 28, 2012 in Books, Chicago Observations | Permalink | Comments (0)

Jos. Kohler's Bier Halle, 1883


Vielen dank, Herr Kohler. I'll have a lager in my regular stein.

November 28, 2012 in Chicago Observations, History, Photography | Permalink | Comments (0)

All hail Pottersville!

I devoutly love It's A Wonderful Life (after double-digit viewings, I still tear up when George Bailey runs down the middle of the street, shouting "Merry Christmas!" to everyone he sees; the tone-deaf singing of "Auld Lang Syne" by Jimmy Stewart and Donna Reed at the end makes me smile, not cringe; etc.) and yet I still can't help admire the contrarian view of Gary Kamiya, who hilariously argues for the roaring iniquity of Pottersville over the soporific Bedford Falls.
The gauzy Currier-and-Ives veil Capra drapes over Bedford Falls has prevented viewers from grasping what a tiresome and, frankly, toxic environment it is. When Marx penned his immortal words about "the idiocy of rural life," he probably had Bedford Falls in mind.
His interpretations of Bert the cabbie and Nick the bartender are particularly sharp.

(Via Boing Boing.)

November 27, 2012 in Film | Permalink | Comments (0)

A thought

Kent Haruf published Plainsong at age 56. So, while I still have some more time, I really have to get moving.

November 27, 2012 in Books, Fiction | Permalink | Comments (0)

More on the Wicker Park Walgreens


Lynn Becker has a fine, lengthy post on the Walgreens bank-to-drugstore renovation that I mentioned last week. Gorgeous. Looks like the company really put their heart and soul into this project. Great for them, great for Chicago.

November 27, 2012 in Chicago Observations | Permalink | Comments (0)

Haruf and Birnbaum

Over the weekend I came across this wonderful Robert Birnbaum interview with Kent Haruf from 2004, right after publication of Haruf's most recent novel, Eventide. (Although "conversation" might be more accurate than "interview" - like most of Birnbaum's interviews, this comes across more like a free-ranging discussion than a standard Q&A.) Haruf really comes across as sensible and down-to-earth, which is hardly a surprise to anyone who has read his books.
There is nothing in these books that I am trying to write that is cynical or satiric or ironic. I am not interested in that. There is a place for that. But in my view that is a kind of easy out. You are not really trying to talk about the human condition, which is what I am after. I am trying to talk about, to write about the kind of universal problems that people have everywhere. And I am not interested in being hip or paying any attention to technology or any of that stuff. None of these characters ever talk about cell phones or computers or any of that.
I just started reading Haruf's 1990 debut novel, Where You Once Belonged. Like all of his novels, the setting is the fictional small town of Holt, Colorado, which he so vividly brought to life in Eventide and especially Plainsong (which, for some reason, I never formally reviewed). Where You Once Belonged is off to a very good start, and I'm already loving being immersed in Holt again. Haruf finally has another Holt novel, Benediction, coming out next spring that I'm eagerly anticipating.

It was also interesting to see Haruf describe Larry Brown's novel Joe as "a masterpiece", especially since that book has been sitting unread on my shelf for a couple of years now, after I picked it up free at our annual county book recycling event. With as much as I admire Haruf as a writer, his recommendation carries a huge weight with me, and so now I'm moving Joe up near the top of my to-read list.

November 26, 2012 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

"From the Mouths of Babes"

My great friend Ben Tanzer is writer-in-residence this month at Necessary Fiction, and he has generously published my essay, "From the Mouths of Babes", in which I discuss the unexpected origin of my novella, Wheatyard. Though I've referred to the book's origins many times here in the past, this essay is probably the most concise account I've ever written. Enjoy.

November 24, 2012 in Fiction, Wheatyard | Permalink | Comments (0)

"...the wriggling electricity of Broadway..."

As I finish the last story in Sinclair Lewis' Go East, Young Man (after this story and some non-fiction miscellany from the book, I'll soon be eagerly moving on to Kent Haruf's Where You Once Belonged), I can't resist posting one last excerpt.

In "Ring Around a Rosy", the obscenely wealthy Eliot and Eleanor Hopkins (in today's parlance, they would be the 1% of the 1%) have tired of their huge Park Avenue penthouse and long for the refined, sedate upper-class life of England, which Lewis sharply contrasts with the chaos of Manhattan.

At home, from their terrace, they looked across the East River, then south and west to the wriggling electricity of Broadway, where tawdry signs, high on hotels, turned crimson and gold and aching white with hysterical quickness. A searchlight wounded the starless dark. And the noises scratched her nerves. Once she had felt that together they made a symphony; now she distinguished and hated them. Tugboats brayed and howled on the river. Trains on the three elevated railways clanked like monstrous shaken chains, and street cars bumped with infuriating dullness. A million motors snarled, four million motor tires together joined in a vast hissing, like torn silk, and through all the uproar smashed the gong of an ambulance.

"Let's get out of it! Let's have a house in England!" cried Eleanor. "Peace! Civilized society! Perfect servants! Old tradition! Let's go!"
Starting a steady procession of grass-is-always-greener moments, the Hopkinses rent an English manor house from a bored nobleman, who then rents a villa in Italy from a rich but bored intellectual, who will soon decamp for Germany. Given the clear pattern of the plot and the title Lewis chose for the story, I wouldn't be surprised if the story concludes with some bored European millionaire renting that very same Park Avenue penthouse. And with nobody ending up any happier than they started.

November 21, 2012 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

Now, Walgreen's gets classy too


Last year I posted about CVS remaking a classic Chicago bank building into a drugstore, at Chicago, Ashland and Milwuakee Avenues. Now, Walgreen's is doing the same thing eight blocks north, at North, Damen and Milwaukee. Though it's somewhat disheartening to see the tacky drugstore shelving and goods inside such elegant structures, at least the buildings are being saved and revived.

November 21, 2012 in Chicago Observations | Permalink | Comments (0)



Love, love, LOVE this photo. I wish I knew these people. So joyful and full of life.

November 18, 2012 in Photography | Permalink | Comments (2)

The Organization and the Bookie

My friend Marie Carnes shares a lovely remembrance of an old man's bar on the Northwest Side. Though my own bar-crawling days were mostly spent in age-appropriate bars, most of those blur together in my mind (was that McGee's? or Kincade's?), while the handful of old man's bars that I drank in were truly unique experiences, and each bar remains vivid in my mind, all these years later.

November 18, 2012 in Chicago Observations | Permalink | Comments (3)

"Twee apen maken muziek"


I love this collection of Flemish anthropomorphic engravings by Quirin Boel and David Teniers, from 1635. I couldn't help noticing that the monkey musicians shown above are creating their art, as have musicians since the beginning of civilization, with libations within easy reach.

November 18, 2012 in Art, History | Permalink | Comments (0)

"...nothing to say about finding himself in strange gutters..."

In Sinclair Lewis' "He Had a Brother", incorrigible drunk Charles Haddon flees Manhattan for his hometown of Glen Western, where he hopes to dry out under the guidance of his brother and sister-in-law.
The ears of Ed and Mildred almost creaked with intentness as he bewailed the strain of city life: office politics, the demands of clients, the competition, the horrible expensiveness. He had very little to say about drinking and exactly nothing to say about finding himself in strange gutters at awakening, but it was clear enough, even to the innocence of Glen Western, that he had - oh, just now and then - found relief in a stray cocktail when the stress had been too great.

With the delight of the godly in the presence of sin, they snapped at this agreeable hint of scandal.

"Guess you people in the city do quite a lot of boozing, sometimes, don't you?" Ed urged.
In finest Lewis form, the unbearable piety of Charles' family drives him, ironically, back to Manhattan and booze. But once back in the city, the story ends with a delightfully unexpected twist. Terrific story, one of many in this book that I could have seen Lewis expand into a novel.

November 17, 2012 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

"I'm the guy at that pinball machine waiting for all those rockets to explode."

I'm working my way through Studs Terkel's American Dreams: Lost and Found, which examines the various permutations of the American Dream: success and failure, winners and losers. Usually when I read Terkel, I most enjoy reading the words of common, everday, anonymous people - although he also interviews the occasional celebrity, their insights rarely interest me as much. But one great exception is Bill Veeck, the former owner of the White Sox. Veeck, despite being famous, was probably one of the most down-to-earth celebrities who ever lived, which is why he remains a beloved figure in Chicago decades after his death.
We have an exploding scoreboard in Comiskey Park. At first, they declared it illegal, immoral, fattening, terrible, too bush. (Laughs.) Funny how you pick things up. It came from reading Saroyan's play The Time of Your Life. All took place in a saloon. There's a pinball machine and the fella, he goes up to the bartender and he wants more nickels. He plays and plays, no luck; and just before the final curtain, he hits a winner. The bells rang and the flag went up and it played "Dixie" and all sorts of extravagant things. That's what happens on our exploding scoreboard. Saroyan was sayin' something: You keep tryin' and tryin', and finally you do hit a winner. You hope, you dream, the guy's gonna hit a homer. Suddenly he hits it. The rockets go off, the bombs burst in air. (Laughs.) The loser has his day...I hate to lose, but it's not the end of the world. Tomorrow may be better. (Laughs.) I'm the guy at that pinball machine waiting for all those rockets to explode.
Veeck never had a World Series champion, but was still absolutely, positively, a winner.

November 15, 2012 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

"It wasn’t like...'Oh, I’ll try to write a shitty power ballad to make some money.'"


This sounds great: I'm Now, a film documentary of the great but under-acclaimed Seattle band, Mudhoney. Julie is a long-time fan (so much so that in 1993 she named her new kitten Mudhoney, later shorted to Mud) and though I didn't really follow any of the Seattle bands during the grunge era, I later developed a genuine appreciation for the band. Sounds like they've always done things on their own terms (witness the Mark Arm quote above), which of course is exactly how it should be for everyone but unfortunately is a very rare occurrence.

And on a marginally related and completely gratutious note, check out my short story "Freewheeling", which was published at Dogmatika in 2006 and imagines a fanboy's reaction to the Mudhoney's brief breakup.

November 14, 2012 in Music | Permalink | Comments (0)

Garrick Restaurant, 1963


This 1963 photo of a Chicago parking garage is pretty cool, but even cooler for me is the inset photo above, which shows the front of the Garrick Restaurant, where my dad ate lunch every day for fifteen or twenty years before his office moved out to the suburbs. (I'd like to pretend that the dark-suited man just reaching the front door is him, but given the odds that would be just wildest fantasy on my part.) Though I've seen a few interior photos that my brother took during a downtown visit in the early 1970s, this is the first time I've seen the outside of the building. Nice.

November 13, 2012 in Chicago Observations, History, Personal, Photography | Permalink | Comments (0)

"We're not moving an inch. It's the world that's moved."

I really enjoyed revisiting this fascinating 1994 article from the Chicago Reader on the House of David religious colony in Benton Harbor, Michigan, which I first read in print at its original publication. But not until I found the article in the paper's online archive did I realize the author was Adam Langer, a native Chicagoan who subsequently became a well-received novelist (Crossing California, The Washington Story, etc.). At the time of Langer's writing, the House of David and City of David colonies had only twenty-six members remaining, with the youngest being 47-year-old Ron Taylor.
"We at one time could have a moral code and tell unmarried people that we weren't going to rent to them. But as we approach the mid-90s, that's not only a lawsuit but that's a major problem because who do you rent to? There's so much of that going on that you have to rent to some of them in order to maintain a business. People come in, unmarried. Or maybe they are married. They'll tell you one thing. They'll tell you another thing. Sometimes one person moves in and then their boyfriend or girlfriend moves in with them. That instability isn't ours. It's the world's. We're the same people we started as. We still stand by the things we've started with. We're not moving an inch. It's the world that's moved."
The "Israelites" (as colony members refer to themselves) not only practice celibacy, but also haven't actively recruited new members since the 1930s, so the colonies have steadily diminished over the decades as older members died and only a few new members joined. Based on this 2012 report, it looks like only five members remain today, including Taylor (who is now 65). Though my religious days are long past, I find it touching that Taylor, despite the Second Coming not happening in 2000 as it was originally prophesied, is still hoping it will happen soon.

November 13, 2012 in Current Affairs, History | Permalink | Comments (0)

"...flowers grew not in pastures but in vases on restaurant tables..."

Sharp passage from Sinclair Lewis' short story "Moths in the Arc Light":
To Bates at thirty-five the world was composed of re-enforced concrete; continents and striding seas were office partitions and inkwells, the latter for signing letters beginning "In reply to your valued query of seventh inst." Not for five years had he seen storm clouds across the hills or moths that flutter white over dusky meadows. To him the arc light was the dancing place for moths, and flowers grew not in pastures but in vases on restaurant tables. He was a city man and an office man. Papers, telephone calls, eight-thirty to six on the twelfth floor, were the natural features of life, and the glory and triumph of civilization was getting another traction company to introduce the Carstop Indicator.
Bates is a workaholic - or, more accurately, an officeholic, who spends long hours at the office even when he has no work to do. During those idle and lonely times he stares out his window at the building across the street, watching the comings and goings of the officeworkers there. During the past year or so I've been mulling a novel about the workers in a single office building in Chicago, and wondered about the right way to effectively narrate the interweaving stories of many disparate individuals. Maybe just this vantage point - someone watching from across the street - is the way to go. As I continue to read the Lewis story, I hope I gain some revelations on that problem.

November 13, 2012 in Books, Fiction | Permalink | Comments (2)

Campbell, De Grazia and Uncle Terry

Yesterday The Rumpus posted a marvelous conversation between Bonnie Jo Campbell, Don De Grazia and (as a delightful bonus) Campbell's beloved uncle, Terry Herlihy.
Campbell: Whenever I run into somebody who’s read my book, I’m surprised. I used to figure that I’d have to give a copy of my book to everybody I met, so that they would read it. But now sometimes they’ve already bought a copy themselves, and maybe they’ve even read it. Weirdly the writing experience has not really changed that much except it used to be that I was busy because I had to work a couple of jobs to earn money, so I didn’t have time to write. Now I do different work, teaching and running around visiting universities and bookstores, and that prevents me from writing. But it’s nice to be wanted as a writer.
Campbell comes across as such a fascinating mix of the intellectual (she has a masters degree in mathematics) and salt of the earth (she lives in rural Michigan and raises goats), that it makes me want to read her acclaimed novel, Once Upon a River, even more than I already did. The book is now skyrocketing toward the top of my reading list.

November 12, 2012 in Books | Permalink | Comments (1)

Patrick Michael Finn, "Smokestack Polka"

Patrick Michael Finn's short story "Smokestack Polka" is a touching coming-of-age tale of a recently orphaned adolescent boy, his troubled older brother and grieving mother, in the gritty industrial city of Joliet, Illinois, where I've lived for the past twelve years. This early passage, like the story itself, beautifully captures the city and its vanishing blue-collar roots.
It was almost winter and the sun was gone by five, leaving the air purple and cold behind a rickety skyline of bare trees, phone poles, smokestacks and steeples. The tired, steady shuffle of yard workers would pass in their oily blues, coughing over the filterless Camels and Pall Malls they clutched in their dirty fists. A few of them would wave or nod when they saw me, but most would hush and look at the ground, frightened by me, the little porch orphan who might have mistook one of them for his dead father and tried to follow him home.

I recently discovered Finn from an essay on Midwest literature at The Millions, which intriguingly mentioned that Finn's short story collection From the Darkness Right Under Our Feet is set in Joliet. The city has been woefully underrepresented in fiction, with only one or two books (other than Finn's) set here that I'm aware of. Finn is a Joliet native who lived here through high school, then went to college in California and now lives and teaches in Arizona.

Checking the table of contents and credits page of Finn's book online, it seems that all of the stories previously published appeared in print-only journals, which prevented me from easily sampling them. But when I saw the cover of the Fall 2004 issue of Third Coast (where "Smokestack Polka" first appeared), something clicked, and I realized that by sheerest coincidence I happened to pick up a copy of that same issue at the Third Coast table at AWP last winter. (Reading through the contributor list now, I don't see any specific name that prompted me to pick up that specific issue, instead of the many others that were available. Almost seems like fate.) And so I read the story, really enjoyed it, and am adding From the Darkness Right Under Our Feet to my to-read list. If that goes well, as I'm sure it will, I'll also be hunting down Finn's earlier, Joliet-set novella A Martyr for Suzy Kosasovich

What a pleasant and unexpected discovery.

November 12, 2012 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

"...the industry, the want, and the vice of the great Metropolis..."

In The New Criterion, Alexandra Mullen writes an excellent piece on Henry Mayhew's London Labour and the London Poor, a massive four-volume compilation of his socio-journalistic writings of the 1850s. This devastating (and strikingly poetic) sentence is from a "ham-sandwich seller" quoted by Mayhew:
I’ve stood up to the ankles in snow till after midnight, and till I’ve wished I was snow myself, and could melt like and have an end...
Mullen makes this rather sharp observation on parallels between Mayhew and his subjects:
He worked on the streets of London gathering odd nuggets of information just as the mudlarks or purefinders gather lumps of coal or dung. Few people were as aware as he just how little such scavenging, piecemeal work, however incrementally useful, was valued or even recognized.

Mudlarks were women and children who scavenged the muck of the Thames at low tide, seeking "coal, bits of old-iron, rope, bones, and copper nails that drop from ships." As raw material, the scattered accounts gathered by Mayhew had as little intrinsic value as the metal scraps gathered by the mudlarks. The difference being that Mayhew was fortunate to be in a high enough professional and social position to transform those raw accounts into newspaper columns which were eagerly read by the London middle class.

Mayhew's work sounds fascinating, although undoubtedly overwhelming in its microscopic detail. (One reviewer notes its "mind-boggling profusion and density of ethnographic detail and its resultant sense of uncontrollable expansiveness.") Though the complete, original four volumes are out of print, modern readers may be heartened by a 472-page condensed edition from Oxford University Press, which is referenced at the end of Mullen's article.

(Via Patrick Kurp, who not only owns the four-volume Mayhew set, but reads it regularly. Clearly he is a much more diligent reader than I will ever be.)

November 11, 2012 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

Schoenhofen Tower


What a fantastic image: a tower of empty beer crates at the Schoenhofen Brewery in 1933, waiting to be filled at the repeal of Prohibition. This implies that Schoenhofen must have been one of the few Chicago breweries that refrained from surreptitiously continuing to brew and sell beer during Prohibition. Because the city never came close to going dry.

November 9, 2012 in Chicago Observations, History, Photography | Permalink | Comments (2)

"Over a lifetime in writing, I've had numerous opportunities to perfect the art of not winning."

Rose Tremain, on not winning literary prizes.
A "non-win" is of course a loss. My hero, Robert Merivel reflects "how astonishing it is that Man attempts any Thing of Significance...when part of him knows that if he fails, all his former contentment will be lost." I think that he, who dreams of presenting learned monographs at the Royal Society, would agree that being shortlisted for a major prize is a Thing of Significance, even if, we, the authors didn't precisely "attempt it" – our publishers attempted it, but it was the book that failed. And here arises the further difficulty to be surmounted by correct non-winning thought: the non-winner is inclined to feel guilty at letting the publishers down.
Being unpublished, I don't have much sympathy for published writers who fail to win awards - at least they've been published. (I'm referring to published writers in general, and not Tremain, who seems somewhat indifferent to whether she wins or not. Her publishers, obviously, are a different story.)

(Via Bookslut.)

November 8, 2012 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

"...a turgid chowder of Phi Beta Kappas, Delta Kappa Epsilons, and members of Skull and Bones..."

As part of Melville House's Presidents series, my best buddy Ben Tanzer pens an excellent first-person narrative in the voice of George H.W. Bush, as the former president addresses the graduating class at Yale, his alma mater.
You have to care about others, and not just your family and neighbors, but the less fortunate too. You also have to recognize that when it comes to the less fortunate, Harvard grads for example, you have to care enough to let them help themselves.
Bush the Elder goes on to muse, of course, about his three sons. But I'm surprised at how lenient Ben was with regards to Dubya - I guess that would have been too easy of a target. Fish in a tiny barrel.

November 7, 2012 in Books, Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (0)

Excellent work, Tribune


This graphic appears this morning on the front page of the Chicago Tribune website. Though I haven't scrutinized all of the nationwide election results from last night, I assume this means that Montana passed a referendum for annexing part of Canada.

November 7, 2012 in Chicago Observations, Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (3)


"Government is a broker in pillage, and every election is a sort of advance auction in stolen goods."
- H.L. Mencken (with whom I share a birthday but not, thankfully, extreme cynicism).

(Via Tim Brown.)

November 6, 2012 in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (0)

The only election that matters.


November 6, 2012 in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (0)

Twain the Candidate

In honor of Election Day, the Library of America has republished Mark Twain's very funny piece, "Running for Governor", which details his fictional electoral travails at the hands of a merciless yellow-journalism press:
I got to picking up papers apprehensively - much as one would lift a desired blanket which he had some idea might have a rattlesnake under it.
Just as funny as the piece itself is the idea that our now-toothless newspapers once regularly engaged in such controversy, enough so for Twain to convincingly lampoon the practice. LoA also provides a preface that provides helpful context.

November 5, 2012 in Books, Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (0)

Why I am voting for Barack Obama

So many reasons: because he inherited the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, and has guided the economy back to stability and modest growth. Because the Affordable Care Act, his signature legislation, is the first significant step toward universal health care and needs to be continued. Because Dodd-Frank and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau are critical toward reining in the excesses of Wall Street and other dubious financial players that caused the recession, and need to be continued. Because he ended the war in Iraq and is committed to ending the war in Afghanistan, greatly weakened Al-Qaeda through the elimination of Osama bin Laden, and restored America's respect and reputation throughout the world. Because he proved his commitment to the middle class with the bailout of the U.S. auto industry, which has come roaring back and generated hundreds of thousands of jobs. Because he needs more time to work on his other major goals, including immigration reform, energy independence and fighting climate change, in the face of Congressional obstruction. And because America can't afford the reactionary, regressive and delusional policies of his opponent.

Yes, I realize that it wasn't actually Obama that accomplished all these things; instead, his subordinates and allies did the actual work. But he was the leader behind all of it, setting the tone, providing guidance and vision. Which is what leaders do. And he certainly is a leader. I am proud to support him, and look forward to our continued progress toward a more equitable, tolerant and forward-looking nation during his next four years as president.

November 5, 2012 in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (0)

"I can't follow your banner any more than you can follow mine."

In 1928, H.G. Wells wrote to James Joyce after reading early extracts from what would eventually become Finnegans Wake. In short, Wells was thoroughly unimpressed, though he was polite about it.
Who the hell is this Joyce who demands so many waking hours of the few thousand I have still to live for a proper appreciation of his quirks and fancies and flashes of rendering?

All this from my point of view. Perhaps you are right and I am all wrong. Your work is an extraordinary experiment and I would go out of my way to save it from destructive or restrictive interruption. It has its believers and its following. Let them rejoice in it. To me it is a dead end.
I loved Dubliners, barely got through Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, and have no interest in Ulysses and especially not Finnegans Wake. There. I said it. Call me philistine if you must.

November 2, 2012 in Books | Permalink | Comments (1)

"It means the end...That’s what the last name means."


WBEZ reports on the A.J. Thomas Midwest Cash Register Company, which is closing shop after 120 years in business. End of an era. Not sure if there are other cash register dealers still around the city, but I wouldn't be surprised if this was the last one.

November 2, 2012 in Chicago Observations | Permalink | Comments (3)

Daily News Plaza




The top photo is a 1929 image of the fountain on the plaza at the Chicago Daily News Building. The second photo was taken yesterday, from the exact same vantage point (the building is now called Two North Riverside Plaza). Sadly, the fountain is no longer functional, and during my visit yesterday there was also a complete absence of behatted gentlemen and genial ladies. (The only person present was a guy, just out of view behind the foliage at the right, copping a quick smoke.) But although all of that foliage is a poor substitute for gloriously descending water, it's actually a big improvement over a few years ago, when Washington Mutual (then still in its heyday of pushing subprime mortgages on every homeowner who still had a pulse) leased the space for advertising, and built a miniature log cabin inside the basin to represent, I guess, how cozy and quaint owning one's own home could be. Within the context of the grand Art Deco plaza, the log cabin was one of the most hideously incongruous pieces of advertising I've ever seen.

The last photo shows detail of the sculpture on each side of the fountain. I'm really not sure what that's supposed to be. A fish? An alligator?

November 1, 2012 in Chicago Observations, History, Photography | Permalink | Comments (2)