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(Photo by David Schalliol)

I can't believe I haven't heard of this place before: the Marktown neighborhood in East Chicago, Indiana, which was built in 1917 as an industrial housing project by the Mark Manufacturing Company. As you can see from the photo above, the neighborhood is now a residential island completely surrounded by heavy industry. And due to the planned expansion of BP's nearby refinery, the entire neighborhood is now at risk. What a shame it would be to lose this quirky little relic.

(Via Gapers Block.)

January 31, 2013 in Chicago Observations | Permalink | Comments (0)

Hockey at the Garden


I have no interest in the New York Rangers, but I'd still love to own an original of this poster, as shown in this 1943 image. Interesting that they'd go to the trouble of printing and hanging a poster that only promotes the next three home games, which would have given the poster a useful life of no more than a few weeks.

January 30, 2013 in History, Photography | Permalink | Comments (0)

"Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary..."

Edgar Allan Poe's legendary poem "The Raven" was first published on this date in 1845, in the New York Evening Mirror. The Poe Society of Baltimore reprints this transcript of the published poem, including the editor's remarkable description.
In our opinion, it is the most effective single example of "fugitive poetry" ever published in this country; and unsurpassed in English poetry for subtle conception, masterly ingenuity of versification, and consistent, sustaining of imaginative lift and "pokerishness." It is one of these "dainties bred in a book" which we feed on. It will stick to the memory of everybody who reads it.
As much as I love the poem, however, what really sticks to my memory is the reenactment of the poem on The Simpsons, with Bart as the raven and Homer as the tormented protagonist. Because that's what great art does - it creates other great art.

And if anyone could enlighten me on what exactly "fugitive poetry" is, I'm all ears. Google returns 131,000 hits on that term, but I still can't find a definition.

January 29, 2013 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

"The Lowest Possible Prices"


I recommend this photo to any writer who is setting a story in Chicago's skid row circa 1964, and wants to be as accurate as possible when referencing the price of cheap booze. Half a gallon of bourbon for eight bucks. Egad.

January 29, 2013 in Chicago Observations | Permalink | Comments (0)



Since Wheatyard has been accepted for publication by Kuboa Press, today will be my final rejection post for the book. And the rejection was the most prestigious I've ever gotten - from Alfred A. Knopf. Knopf is a rarity among big publishers in that they accept unsolicited, non-agented submissions (though they undoubtedly publish an infinitesimal number of those books, and maybe none at all) so on a whim I sent them a query letter and sample chapters. Then one day, shortly after accepting Kuboa's offer, a fat envelope from Knopf arrived in the mail. I thought it might be a free book (publishers still push unsolicited review copies on me, now and then), but was surprised to see that it contained their rejection letter (shown above) and my full submission. Though the rejection was no surprise, I didn't expect them to send back the whole thing, instead of recycling it. The package was still in its binder clip with my self-addressed reply envelope at the back, so I doubt that their reader did anything more than browse a few pages before rejecting it. As you can see from the photo, the letter is a boilerplate photocopy, though at least somebody went to the trouble of writing in my name by hand.

In the past, I would conclude these Gong! posts with a few stiff-upper-lip words meant to convey self-confidence and resilience, though that wasn't always what I was really feeling at the time. But now that Wheatyard has found a home, I'm passing along this Knopf rejection for curiousity and amusement. Onward...to Kuboa!

January 25, 2013 in Wheatyard | Permalink | Comments (0)


"I don’t hesitate to compare the best student work with the work of masters. This is not meant to cheapen the marvelous but to evoke it. The hope is to make students fall in love with sublimity and to show them it’s not out of reach." - Richard G. Stern

Rest in peace.

January 25, 2013 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

From the Hooverville Public Library


At Forgotten Bookmarks, Michael Popek presents this woefully treated book, which is riddled with either BBs or buckshot. Which book? A biography of Herbert Hoover. I can't help imagining that the shooter is conveying politcal commentary across the decades.

January 24, 2013 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

"Business Is Bad. We Now Serve All Parties...Even Republicans"


Great 1950 image of the original Billy Goat Inn, on Madison Street across from Chicago Stadium - its previous location before moving to Hubbard Street and worldwide fame. (I would guess that's the original owner, Billy Sianis.) I love the place for its gritty aura (and Mike Royko connection, of course), but now I realize that I love its politics, too.

January 24, 2013 in Chicago Observations, History | Permalink | Comments (0)

The next five indie/college press books that I want to buy

Kirby Gann, Ghosting (Ig Publishing)
Patrick Michael Finn, From the Darkness Right Under Our Feet (Black Lawrence Press)
Steve Himmer, The Bee-Loud Glade (Atticus Books)
Mark Costello, Middle Murphy (University of Illinois Press)
Dmitry Samarov, Hack: Stories from a Chicago Cab (University of Chicago Press)

January 23, 2013 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

Mary's house

Mary Bonelli has lived in her house at 2334 N. Mason Avenue in Chicago since 1958, and the house has been in her family since 1921. But thanks to an error in Fifth Third Bank's automated mortgage payment system, her loan went delinquent and then quickly into foreclosure, and now she's fighting eviction. Yet another example of how utterly broken our mortgage lending system is.

January 23, 2013 in Chicago Observations | Permalink | Comments (1)

Wheatyard! Success!

I am thrilled to announce that my novella Wheatyard will be published by Kuboa Press, with a scheduled release date of April 30. My deepest gratitude goes out to publisher Pablo D'Stair for giving a good home to this waifish orphan of a book. For the record, I started writing Wheatyard in November 2005 and finally finished it roughly two years ago, and since then it's been making the rounds at numerous indie publishers. So, for seven-plus years the book has been either in process (being written), in limbo (languishing in manuscript for far too long deep inside my messenger bag) or in circulation. I'm very eager to soon take this next big step.

Three things in particular drew me to Kuboa. First, Mel Bosworth re-published his novella Grease Stains, Kismet and Maternal Wisdom with the press. Bosworth's novella (which I read and enjoyed) is a low-key, plainspoken story of everyday life - no clever literary twists, no gratuitous violence, etc. - that has some vague parallels to Wheatyard, so I figured that any publisher who was receptive to the style and tone of Grease Stains might like Wheatyard as well. Second, Kuboa has a unique publishing model: physical copies of its books are published only in mass market paperback format (not the conventional, more expensive trade format) at a retail price of only $3, and the e-book version is free via Smashwords, so the focus is making the books widely available at a very affordable price. (Exposure is exactly what I need as a debut author, and not any concern for making money.) Lastly, "kuboa" (or "kuboaa") is an invented word that briefly appears in Knut Hamsun's Hunger, my favorite novel ever. It wasn't until after I accepted Pablo's publication offer that I learned that the name of the press is a direct reference to Hunger; Pablo says that Hamsun influenced him artistically more than any other writer. So while I didn't know about the Hamsun connection when I first discovered Kuboa, the mere possibility of that connection kept me interested.

I'll have more details as the publication date gets closer, so stay tuned. I'm very excited about finally publishing my first book, though admittedly I'm also pretty nervous over having to promote myself to the general reading public instead of just to prospective publishers. Selling doesn't come naturally to me at all, though at least I'll have a product that I totally believe in.

January 22, 2013 in Fiction, Wheatyard | Permalink | Comments (6)

"The Tell-Tale Heart"

Yesterday was the birthday of Edgar Allan Poe, who was born on January 19, 1809. Poe is one of my childhood favorites, so I marked the occasion by re-reading "The Tell-Tale Heart", the first Poe story that I ever encountered. The story is a masterpiece of tightly-wound mania, and remarkably short and concise given Poe's penchant for long-winded, florid prose. If you haven't read the story in a while, do yourself a favor and read it again. It's truly great.

My wonderful fourth-grade teacher, Patrick Murphy, read "The Tell-Tale Heart" aloud to our enraptured class. It was one of many reading choices (Beowulf and Shakespeare were others) which seemed pretty advanced for fourth graders (and my class wasn't exactly packed with intellectuals), which was one of the things I loved about Mr. Murphy. He never underestimated or talked down to us, and encouraged us to pursue our passions, even if that meant we were out of our desks for much of the school day. He was one of the best teachers I ever had.

January 20, 2013 in Books, Personal | Permalink | Comments (3)

All Our Bookcases, continued


Next up in our bookcase collection is this solid 1960s model, which Julie brought home from a garage sale for just a buck or two. One nice aspect of this bookcase is its short height, which allows storage/display of oversized/"doorstop" books (like The Autobiography of Mark Twain, which I'm now wondering if I'll ever read) which are hard to fit elsewhere. This is kind of an overflow bookcase, with a mix of read and unread books - and some vacant space, which is rare on our shelves. Notable books here are several David Mitchells, half a dozen back issues of The Baffler from the 1990s, four Jim Thompson hardboiled novels from Vintage/Black Lizard, The Norton Anthology of English Literature (a holdover from college), and three of Kent Haruf's four novels (the fourth, The Tie That Binds, is on one of my to-read shelves elsewhere).

Previously in this series: 1.

January 20, 2013 | Permalink | Comments (1)

"Library turns to pole dancing to entice new readers"

Seems to me that if you have to entice people into the library with pole-dancing classes, ping pong and massages, they're probably not readers to begin with, and won't return for a second visit when you're no longer offering those diversions. So skip the diversions altogether.

January 18, 2013 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

"...a poetry of gestures and inflections and shadows..."

Charles Baxter, who edited Library of America's recent volume Sherwood Anderson: Collected Stories, reflects on Anderson, particularly as a fellow Midwest writer:
What you showed in public was not what you often felt in private, and what you felt, or knew, in private, you could not say. You can find this division anywhere, but it typically arises in places where reticence is given great value, where open spaces separate people. It creates a poetry of gestures and inflections and shadows.
I finally read Winesburg, Ohio a few years ago and loved it, but haven't read any more Anderson since. I might next dip into either these stories or the 1916 novel Windy McPherson's Son, after reading Carl S. Smith's extended (and favorable) discussion of the book last year in Chicago and the American Literary Imagination, 1880-1920.

January 17, 2013 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

Dougher on K

Nicely done: Sarah Dougher reviews Mark Baumgarten's Love Rock Revolution: K Records and the Rise of Independent Music. Dougher is a former K artist, so she brings more perspective and insight than most reviewers could. Seems the author might have dwelled a bit too much on Calvin Johnson and the earlier years of the label, at the expense of other K contributors and the label's last ten years, though the book does sound good overall.

January 16, 2013 in Books, Music | Permalink | Comments (0)

Let's do the time warp again


Fantastic: the now-vacant Ebony/Jet Building on Michigan Avenue was built in 1972, but the groovy interiors have remained virtually unchanged. WBEZ's Lee Bey toured the building.
Corporations often change their interiors dramatically, especially over the course of 40 years. But at the former Ebony/Jet building, Johnson saw to it that things were maintained, replaced, re-milled or remade with exactly what was there when the building was completed. Carpet. Furnishings. Wall coverings. The colors of the '70s are still there - and boldly so: rusts, reds, harvest golds, deep browns.
Columbia College now owns the building, and has begun making renovations. Here's hoping they retain as much of that 1972 vibe as possible.

January 16, 2013 in Chicago Observations | Permalink | Comments (0)

311 Washington

311 washington

My friend Richard Grayson posted interesting side-by-side photos on his Facebook page, which are shown above. Both photos are of 311 Washington Avenue - the first in Brooklyn, the second in Miami Beach. I thought I'd do likewise for Chicago and Joliet. Here is 311 W. Washington Street in Chicago:

311 w washington street chicago

This building is half a block from my office, and primarily houses an AT&T switching station. (Interesting how those utilitarian AT&T buildings were designed so ornately back in the old days.) And here is 311 E. Washington Street in Joliet:

311 e washington street joliet

Not much to see here, other than the Rock Island railroad embankment and a sliver of the roofline of Joliet Central High School. But this address is somewhat historically significant, as the opposite side of the street is the former site of the Gerlach-Barklow Company, which was once one of the biggest manufacturers of art calendars in the United States.

(Note: There is no 311 E. Washington address in Chicago; that number would be located somewhere in the middle of Grant Park. And 311 W. Washington in Joliet would be in the middle of an intersection, so thus the street address doesn't technically exist either. So, the Chicago and Joliet addresses I used above were the closest matches to Richard's addresses.)

January 15, 2013 in Chicago Observations, Joliet | Permalink | Comments (0)

Scruffy the Cat, Tiny Days

Scruffy the Cat's Tiny Days, one of my favorite 1980s albums, is now (briefly?) available as a free download from a longtime fan. I assume the band is okay with this - the album has been out of print for ages - since one of its founders, Stona Fitch, is linking to that blog post from his Facebook page. Go grab this great album now, before the lawyers from the record label start sharpening their knives.

January 13, 2013 in Music | Permalink | Comments (0)

Hurray for Megan Cottrell!

Well deserved: Megan Cottrell has been named a winner of the 2013 Studs Terkel Community Media Award.
"My stories are often about the bizarre conundrums of living in poverty and how services and systems are designed to help people and often end up hurting them or overlapping in ways that don’t help them at all," Cottrell paused, "When they’re meant to give them a leg up."
I've been avidly following Cottrell's work for several years now, after a random search for information on the LeClaire Courts housing project (as background for one of my Marshland stories) lead to her articles at Chicago Now about the now-demolished LeClaire. Her writing is plainspoken and sympathetic to its subjects, and she is truly a credit to the local journalism community.

January 11, 2013 in Chicago Observations | Permalink | Comments (0)

Ice Ice Baby


Real estate developer Sterling Bay Companies and architectural firm Perkins + Will are converting the old Fulton Market Cold Storage Company building into commercial loft space. One catch: they had to defrost the building first. (Check out the fascinating time lapse video.) Anyone who has ever moved out of an apartment with a cheap refrigerator can certainly sympathize.

(Via Gapers Block.)

January 10, 2013 in Chicago Observations | Permalink | Comments (0)

Once, there was greatness here.



January 10, 2013 in Chicago Observations, Music | Permalink | Comments (0)

The McClelland-Marx Summit

Ted McClelland insulted [1] 1980s pop star Richard Marx online, which irritated Marx so much that the two eventually held a sort of summit meeting at a neighborhood tavern in Rogers Park. Here's McClelland's pre-summit assessment of Marx:
Richard Marx — author of the 1980s pre-prom ballad "Right Here Waiting," the 1980s prom ballad "Hold on to the Nights," and the 1980s post-prom ballad "Endless Summer Nights" — was not just far outside my musical tastes, I thought he was ear cancer. I was convinced Richard Marx was a poor man’s Kenny Loggins who had written "Hold on to the Nights" after consulting with a marketing team who told him the cassingle could be sold to 18-year-olds at tuxedo rental stores and dress shops.
And his opinion of Marx didn't exactly change after meeting him. Funny piece, well worth your time.

[1] That is, Marx felt insulted. The comment wasn't an insult. Truth hurts, baby.

January 9, 2013 in Chicago Observations, Music | Permalink | Comments (2)

All Our Bookcases


This is the first in a series of photographs of the many bookcases in our house. With all of us being serious readers, we own thousands of books which are scattered across almost every room in the house, with only minimal organization. Mostly the books end up wherever they'll fit, which always makes for pleasant hunting the next time we're looking for them.

This bookcase is in our bedroom, on top of my dresser. Both the dresser and shelf are from my boyhood home (someday we'll have new and unified bedroom furnishings, but with an old house there's never any shortage of renovations to pay for, so this will have to do for now). Generally, the books here are still unread - highlights include The Chicago Tribune Tower Competition: Skyscraper Design and Cultural Change in the 1920s by Katherine Solomonson (who happens to be my cousin), Enigma: The Life of Knut Hamsun by Robert Ferguson and Echo House by Ward Just. Unlike most of our bookcases, this one also houses various non-book items, highlights of which include a Fighting Illini football nesting doll (bought by my sister in, of all places, St. Petersburg, Russia), various family photographs (including one of my dad in his twenties) and an official Northern League baseball that I found in the alley across the street from Joliet's Silver Cross Field (I'm guessing it was a foul ball that was never found).

I promise that future additions to this series will have better lighting and resolution. I took this photo at night with only ambient light - every flash photo I attempted inexplicably had a big circle of glare.

January 9, 2013 in Books, Personal | Permalink | Comments (0)

College hoops in Chicago


Interesting confluence of lengthy pieces today on Chicago's top (but underachieving) college basketball programs: at ChicagoSide, Daniel Libit focuses on local guy Howard Moore at UIC, while at the Chicago Reader, Adam Doster takes a longer view of DePaul's infrequently-storied heritage. Two things of particular interest: Moore's struggle to keep local high schoolers at home (it seems that many can't wait to get out of town, even if only to Champaign), and the odd footnote that the George Mikan-era Blue Demons played their games at the DePaul Auditorium (aka The Barn), a former theater at Sheffield and Belden. That photo above shows Mikan playing in The Barn - those pillars made quite a dramatic backdrop.

January 9, 2013 in Chicago Observations, Sports | Permalink | Comments (0)

Three longs and a short

So cool: barbed wire fences as early telephone networks.
"The number is 37."

"Sir, that's not a telephone number."

"It is in Liberty Hill. You'll have to contact an operator in Austin. She'll help you get the call through." Eventually the Dallas operator would contact an Austin operator, who would tell her how to put the call through and I'd get to talk to my parents - with half the town listening in.
Of course, AT&T eventually stormed in and ruined everything.

(Via Boing Boing.)

January 8, 2013 in History | Permalink | Comments (0)

Mirage reappears


This should be interesting: the Sun-Times will be republishing its landmark 1978 series of articles based on the Mirage Tavern, the undercover sting operation run by the newspaper and the Better Government Association that ensnared countless corrupt city officials in various degrees of graft. And if I don't keep up with the articles (each to be republished 35 years from the day it first appeared), I can always hunt down the book. (But I'm puzzled by this comment: "Special thanks is due to NYU who has a thorough archive of the original articles." Doesn't the Sun-Times itself already have a thorough archive of the orignal articles?)

January 7, 2013 in Chicago Observations, History | Permalink | Comments (0)

The Great War


BibliOdyssey has a striking gallery of World War One propaganda posters. The one shown above (by Fred W. Cooper) is the most subtle of the lot and, to me, the most effective. Though I suspect the more shocking ones would have been better at spurring people to action.

January 7, 2013 in Art, History | Permalink | Comments (0)



I've long wondered why the Chicago "community area" that includes the famous Bronzeville neighborhood is called Grand Boulevard, when there is no street by that name in the area. (The name has nothing to do with Grand Avenue, on the North and Northwest Sides.) Now I know: Martin Luther King Drive was formerly known as South Parkway (this I already knew), which was formerly known as Grand Boulevard (this I did not know). One of my Marshland stories, "Singing for the Here and Now", is set in Grand Boulevard, at 48th and King Drive.

January 4, 2013 in Chicago Observations, History, Marshland | Permalink | Comments (0)

"They watched him like wolves."

In Larry Brown's Joe, a destitute family of five has encamped in the northern Mississippi woods, with a drunken father being watched warily by his famished wife and children.
The fire grew dimmer. The plate of beans before the old man steamed but he didn't notice. A candlefly bored crazily in and out of the night and landed in the hot sauce, struggled briefly and was still. The old man's head went lower and lower onto his chest until the only thing they could see was the stained gray hat over the bib of his overalls. He snuffled, made some noise. His chest rose and fell. They watched him like wolves. The fire cracked and popped and white bits of ash fell away from the tree limbs burning in the coals. Sparks rose fragile and dying, orange as coon eyes in the gloom. The ash crumbled and the fading light threw darker shadows still. The old man toppled over slowly, a bit at a time like a rotten tree giving way, until the whiskey lay spilling between his legs. They watched him for a few minutes and then they got up and went to the fire and took his plate and carried it away into the dark.
Such plain, simple language (a long paragraph with only four commas, and only two words with more than two syllables), yet so evocative.

January 4, 2013 in Books | Permalink | Comments (1)

Schulze Baking Company


This morning, Frank Jump posted this photo of a faded ad for Schulze's Butternut Bread. And thanks to a Metra debacle, this morning I had to take the Rock Island train instead of my regular train, which serendiptiously brought me within two blocks of the old Schulze Bakery. My hurried photograph of the building (at 55th and Wabash) is shown above. Butternut was baked there until 2004, before the owners shut it down. I'm not sure what business (if any) operates there now, but at least the building is still standing, and the Schulze name is still emblazoned across the top.

January 2, 2013 in Chicago Observations, History, Photography | Permalink | Comments (2)

Happy New Year!


I hope your 2013 is as happy and pleasant as this fine couple. With libations, of course.

January 1, 2013 in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (0)