« July 2013 | Main | September 2013 »

Fading Ad: Chicago Paper Company


On an instant whim, I photographed this image from my train this morning, of the old Chicago Paper Company building at Wells and Polk in the South Loop. I'm not sure which I love more: the fading ad bearing the company name, or that marvelous vast wall of small windows. (The blank spots are windows reflecting the morning sun.) I converted the photo to black and white to eliminate the sickening greenish tinge of the train window; I also found that doing so, combined with higher contrast and reduced brightness, really helps bring out the lettering.

I previously photographed this building last year, specifically for another ad along the roofline. But I like this current image much better.

August 30, 2013 in Chicago Observations, Photography | Permalink | Comments (0)

"...the body and soul of a poem are one."

My friend Jeff Sypeck is an ambitious man. He recently attempted to translate a 9th Century poem from its original Latin into English, in a single day.
Because the poem is only 10 lines long and grammatically compact, I made the same careless assumption as the day I broke ground in my garden: "How hard can this be?"
In one word: hard. Still, I greatly admire the effort.

August 30, 2013 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

Spruce grove


Spruce grove at the Morton Arboretum in Lisle, Illinois. This weekend the three of us did a long hike through the arboretum, where we hadn't visited since Maddie was a toddler. Beautiful place - it's the former estate of the Morton family (of Morton Salt fame) and includes everything from thick forest to savannas to marshes to prairie to formal gardens. The Mortons were pioneering naturalists (the family patriarch was the founder of Arbor Day) and their legacy has been lovingly maintained at the arboretum. We really enjoyed our visit and plan to return regularly, the next being a month or two from now for the autumn foliage.

August 26, 2013 in Personal, Photography | Permalink | Comments (0)

Hanson Gregory, inventor of the doughnut?

Someone here at the office wondered aloud if doughnuts are an American invention, and a quick check of Wikipedia indicates they probably are. Of course, fried dough has been around for a long time, and no single individual could reasonably claim to have thought up the original concept. However, a little online digging unearthed a 1916 article from the Washington Post, in which an old sailor, Hanson Gregory, claimed to have been the first to cut a hole in the center, sometime around 1847, which would make him the inventor of what we now know as the doughnut. Here's the full, charming article. I love how he compares himself to Columbus and Admiral Peary.

'OLD SALT' DOUGHNUT HOLE INVENTOR TELLS JUST HOW DISCOVERY WAS MADE AND STOMACH OF EARTHS SAVED; Special to The Washington Post.; The Washington Post (1877-1954), Washington, D.C.; Mar 26, 1916

Boston, March 25. — The man who invented the hole in the doughnut has been found. He is Capt. Hanson Gregory, at present an inmate in Sailor's Snug Harbor, at Quincy, Mass. Doughnut cutters have made fortunes for men; millions eat doughnuts for breakfast and feel satisfied. Doctors do not assail the doughnut. And all of this owes its being to Capt. Gregory, who made the doughnut a safe, sane and hygienic food.

It's a long story, mates; but as the 85-year-old chap relates it, it's only too short. Outside the fact that Capt. Gregory is a bit hard of hearing, he's as sound as new timber.

He's a product of Maine; and so Maine can lay claim to the discoverer of the hole in the doughnut, along with the discoverer of new ways to evade the prohibition laws. But Capt. Gregory's discovery is of real use in the world; millions have risen, and millions more shall rise up, and call him blessed.

"It was way back—oh, I don't know just what year—let me see—born in '31, shipped when I was 13—well, I guess it was about '47, when I was 16, that I was aboard ship and discovered the hole which was later to revolutionize the doughnut industry.

"I first shipped aboard the Isaac Achorn, three-masted schooner, Capt. Rhodes, in the lime trade. Later I joined other crews and other captains, and it was on one of these cruises that I was mawing doughnuts.

"Now in them days we used to cut the doughnuts into diamond shapes, and also into long strips, bent in half, and then twisted. I don't think we called them doughnuts then—they was just 'fried cakes' and 'twisters.'

"Well, sir, they used to fry all right around the edges, but when you had the edges done the insides was all raw dough. And the twisters used to sop up all the grease just where they bent, and they were tough on the digestion."

"Pretty d—d tough, too!" profanely agreed one of the dozen pipe-smoking fellows who were all eyes and ears, taking in their comrade's interview by The Post reporter.

With a glance at the perfervid interrupter, the discoverer continued:

"Well, I says to myself, 'Why wouldn't a space inside solve the difficulty?' I thought at first I'd take one of the strips and roll it around, then I got an inspiration, a great inspiration.

"I took the cover off the ship's tin pepper box, and—I cut into the middle of that doughnut the first hole ever seen by mortal eyes!"

"Were you pleased?"

"Was Columbus pleased? Well, sir, them doughnuts was the finest I ever tasted. No more indigestion—no more greasy sinkers—but just well-done, fried-through doughnuts.

"That cruise over, I went home to my old mother and father in Camden, Me., where I was born. My father, Hanson Gregory, sr., lived to be 93, and my mother lived to be 79. She was a pretty old lady then. I saw her making doughnuts in the kitchen—I can see her now, and as fine a woman as ever-lived, was my mother.

"I says to her: 'Let me make some doughnuts for you.' She says all right, so I made her one or two and then showed her how.

"She then made several panfuls and sent them down to Rockland, just outside Camden. Everybody was delighted and they never made doughnuts any other way except the way I showed my mother.

"Well, I never took out a patent on it; I don't suppose any one can patent anything he discovers; I don't suppose Peary could patent the north pole or Columbus patent America. But I thought I'd get out a doughnut cutter—but somebody got in ahead of me.

"Of course a hole ain't so much; but it's the best part of the doughnut—you'd think so if you had ever tasted the doughnuts we used to eat in '31. Of course, lots of people joke about the hole in the doughnut. I've got a joke myself: Whenever anybody says to me: 'Where's the hole in the doughnut?' I always answer: 'It's been cut out!'" and the old chap laughed loud and longat his little sally, while the rest joined in.

So there he sits—in the Snug Harbor by the sea. And whenever there's doughnuts on the day's fare, Capt. Gregory takes a personal pride trying to do what nobody's succeeded in doing yet—in trying to find the hole in the doughnut. And whenever the old salts rally him about it, he always springs his little joke:

"The hole's been cut out, I guess!" to the delight of the whole shipful.

August 23, 2013 in History | Permalink | Comments (0)

A tale of two buildings


The photo above shows the top floors of the Waterman Building at 127 S. State Street, right next door to the Palmer House Hilton. Designed by Holabird & Roche and built in 1920, the building originally housed the Chicago branch of the Waterman fountain pen company, with a luxurious street-level retail showroom and assembly/warehousing operations upstairs. The building is now considerably worn and showing its age, but still retains a sort of muscular elegance.


Meanwhile, this photo shows the Beef & Brandy Restaurant, also on State, which dates from the 1960s and is also showing its age. The ugly maroon awning, atrium-like front windows (which always remind me of a 1980s-vintage Wendy's) and pseudo-Colonial upper windows add little to the aesthetics of State Street, which itself has been aesthetically challenged for decades.

The strange thing is that both of these photos are of the same building. Here's the full view:


This might be the Loop's most comically incongruous building. Designslinger has much more about the building. As that site notes, the blank white area in the middle floors was once an enamel background for a two-story-high sign; for some reason when the sign was removed the enamel panels were left behind, and are still pockmarked by holes from the sign's former mountings. I'd love to see the latter-day embellishments of the bottom four floors totally stripped away, and the building restored to some semblance of its former luster. Perhaps for a high-end jeweler, condominiums or a boutique hotel. But I'm probably just dreaming.

August 21, 2013 in Chicago Observations, History | Permalink | Comments (4)

The 40th Parallel


Completely fascinating: photographer Bruce Myren traversed the United States along the 40th Parallel, and photographed each of the 52 points at which the latitude line was intersected by a whole degree of longitude. Navigating west to east, you don't even see a building until Noblesville, Indiana, and only a few of the photos show any signs of human habitation at all. And only one depicts a genuine city: Columbus, Ohio. This is a vivid reminder of how much of our country is open, uninhabited land, despite having over 300 million people.

That photo above was taken in Hollenberg, Kansas, and is probably my favorite in the collection.

(Via Steve Himmer.)

August 20, 2013 in Photography | Permalink | Comments (1)

"Trees don’t produce fruit all year long, constantly."

"One reason that people have artist’s block is that they do not respect the law of dormancy in nature. Trees don’t produce fruit all year long, constantly. They have a point where they go dormant. And when you are in a dormant period creatively, if you can arrange your life to do the technical tasks that don’t take creativity, you are essentially preparing for the spring when it will all blossom again." - Marshall Vandruff

I sincerely hope my current lack of creativity is just this sort of dormancy. Looking to blossom again soon.

(Via Steve Himmer.)

August 19, 2013 in Books, Fiction | Permalink | Comments (2)

Cocktails at Henrici's


I'd love to have a framed original of this cocktail menu from Chicago's legendary Henrici's, circa 1945. Having it would probably inspire me to finally find a vintage cocktail cabinet for our living room, which it would hang directly above. Until I saw this, I didn't realize that a Cuba Libre is basically the same as a rum and coke, but with a much better name. I'd guess it became known as the more generic "rum and coke" during the Cold War, when making any sort of tribute to Cuba would have been a major no-no.

Incidentally, if you've ever been to Chicago's Museum of Science and Industry, you may remember Yesterday's Main Street, a re-creation of a Chicago street, circa 1910. For many years, one storefront was made up to look like Henrici's. But with that restaurant now long gone, presumably along with any potential benefactors to the museum, that space now depicts the still-thriving Berghoff, whose family owners undoubtedly made a generous donation to the museum to make this happen. I preferred the Henrici's.

August 18, 2013 in Chicago Observations, History | Permalink | Comments (1)

"I think I’d like a ride in that wiener bus."

Milwaukee chef Sanford D'Amato reminisces about riding the Oscar Mayer Wienermobile with Julia Child. That's her quotation above - oh, how I wish there was an audio recording of her saying that.

August 16, 2013 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

Fading Ad: W.W. Kimball


This fading ad is pretty tough to read. Running vertically down the right side of this building, you can just barely see the name "Kimball", with the "K" being even more faded than the rest. This was the former home of W.W. Kimball and Company, the famous manufacturer of pianos and organs, at the corner of Jackson and Wabash. (And, incidentally, right across the street is the old Lyon-Healy building; Wabash was once Chicago's Music Row.) Both the Kimball and Lyon-Healy buildings are now owned by DePaul University as part of its downtown campus.

August 16, 2013 in Chicago Observations, History, Photography | Permalink | Comments (0)

"...you must not deny experience of that which lies beyond the sun..."

Having just previously read The Odyssey, it was quite interesting this morning to read Dante's inclusion of Ulysses (Odysseus) in Inferno. According to Dante, Ulysses was consigned to hell not because he was a pre-Christian pagan, but because he committed the sin of being a fraudulent counselor. Dante has Ulysses speak the following:
I sailed away from Circe, who'd beguiled me
to stay more than a year there, near Gaeta -
before Aeneas gave that place a name -

neither my fondness for my son nor pity
for my old father nor the love I owed
Penelope, which would have gladdened her,

was able to defeat in me the longing
I had to gain experience of the world
and of the vices and the worth of men.
To Dante, Ulysses was a fradulent counselor because he convinced his underlings not to return home after the victory at Troy, but to venture forth and see the world - purportedly for their own good but in reality (as he admits above) to support his own wanderlust:
'Brothers,' I said, 'o you, who having crossed
a hundred thousand dangers, reach the west,
to this brief waking-time that still is left

unto your senses, you must not deny
experience of that which lies beyond
the sun, and of the world that is unpeopled.

Consider well the seed that gave you birth:
you were not made to live your lives as brutes,
but to be followers of worth and knowledge.'
Go for the gusto, he says - even if the gusto will ultimately kill you. Ulysses was the only one of the entire crew to make it home alive.

August 16, 2013 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

Federal Street


This charming medieval couple has clearly been keeping diligent watch over the fire alarm at 314-316 S. Federal for decades. The building was originally St. Hubert's English Chophouse (which was quite the destination in its day) but is now used only for storage by the adjacent Union League Club.

August 15, 2013 in Chicago Observations, History, Photography | Permalink | Comments (2)

Interview at Midwestern Gothic

Midwestern Gothic interviewed me about Wheatyard, writing, and the Midwest.

MG: Do you believe the Midwest has affected your writing?
PA: The Midwest is physically beautiful, but in a very subtle way. The beauty of other places, like the mountains of Colorado or the beaches of Florida, is much easier to appreciate, but in the Midwest you often have to look very closely, and patiently. I suppose a lot of people don’t see beauty in a field of soybeans, a weathered farmhouse or rusting factory, but I do. Living in the Midwest, I’ve learned to look closely at things, and that translates to my writing as well. There’s not much bold action or laugh-out-loud humor in my fiction, which tends to involve reserved characters, quiet situations and commonplace dialogue. I think of my writing as being understated, as is the Midwest itself.

Thanks to Jeff Pfaller and Rob Russell for running the interview, and for their ongoing support. Getting my beloved but long-unpublished story "Mahalia" into the debut issue of Midwestern Gothic is one of the highlights of my writing career.

August 14, 2013 in Fiction, Wheatyard | Permalink | Comments (0)

Interview at Fiction Writers Review

My good friend Nick Ostdick interviewed me for Fiction Writers Review, about Wheatyard and the writing life.
Given how much we’ve discussed real-world time constraints for writing fiction, was this why you chose to keep the book small in terms of time and place?

Generally, I prefer novellas and short novels that tell a small story vividly and thoroughly, usually from a single point of view and a single setting...To me the best novels are the ones that don’t explain everything, but give the reader just enough hints about the full story to keep the reader questioning and thinking about the story long after it’s finished. I know everything that happened in Wheatyard’s past, but I’m not telling. I trust the reader to come up with their own conclusions.
Cocktails are on me, Nick, next time we meet.

August 9, 2013 in Wheatyard | Permalink | Comments (0)

"...where, even as a grain of spelt, it sprouts..."

In Canto XIII of Inferno, Dante enters the seventh circle of hell. There, in the portion reserved for those who committed suicide, the suicides take the form of trees and bushes. One sufferer describes the their fate.

"When the savage spirit quits

the body from which it has torn itself,
then Minos sends it to the seventh maw.
It falls into the wood, and there's no place

to which it is allotted, but wherever
fortune has flung that soul, that is the space
where, even as a grain of spelt, it sprouts.

It rises as a sapling, a wild plant;
and then the Harpies, feeding on its leaves,
cause pain and for that pain provide a vent.

Like other souls, we shall seek out the flesh
that we have left, but none of us shall wear it;
it is not right for any man to have

what he himself has cast aside. We'll drag
our bodies here; they'll hang in this sad wood,
each on the stump of its vindictive shade."

This certainly makes me think of the verdant lushness of my yard in a whole new light.

August 9, 2013 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

Fading Ad: Century Building


I'm somehow charmed by this stylistic hodgepodge of a fading ad, on the south side of the Century Building, 202 S. State St. Reading from top to bottom:

202 S. State Street
Century Building
Choice Space/300 to 3500 sq. ft./Phone 431-1730
Romas Restaurant

Based on the graphics and the lack of an area code with the phone number, I would guess this ad dates from the late 1960s or early 1970s. That's also roughly the last time State Street had anything that would have been considered "choice" office space. The less-than-pristine portion at the left side of the ad is due it being painted over a vertical outcrop in the brick wall, which I assume conceals a chimney pipe.

August 8, 2013 in Chicago Observations, Photography | Permalink | Comments (0)

Fading Ad: Falstaff Beer


My friend Marie Carnes posted this fantastic fading ad for Falstaff Beer, on the side of the Brooklyn Tavern in Springfield. I'm calling it a fading ad because although the bar is still in business (and in the news), Falstaff has been defunct since 2005. I'll always remember Harry Caray drunkenly waxing poetic about the glories of Falstaff during Sox games on Channel 44 during the seventies.

August 7, 2013 in Photography | Permalink | Comments (2)

"On occasion, I write pretty well."


This is beautiful: Kurt Vonnegut's 1960 letter to then-Senator John F. Kennedy, volunteering to work on JFK's presidential campaign. He played it pretty straight until that second-to-last line.

August 7, 2013 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

Happy birthday, Chicago!


Happy 180th birthday to Chicago, which was incorporated as a town on this date in 1833. I'm not sure exactly when this map dates from, but it must be from very early on since the town mostly consisted of just four square blocks at the time. (The map's orientation is skewed - the top of the map is west, not north.) I'm intrigued by that branch of the river that extends from Water Street (now Wacker Drive) and State Street, and runs southwest before ending near Clark and Washington, as well as the shorter one that parallels LaSalle and Clark. I've heard about underground rivers beneath other cities (particularly Manhattan) and have wondered if any remain in Chicago. These two undoubtedly no longer exist, as they would have interfered with the vast network of freight tunnels which were later bored beneath the Loop, and were surely filled in during the nineteenth century. Still, I have hopes of discovering some other river (or, more accurately, a stream) around here that was built over instead of filled in - that is, just not one that runs under my house.

August 5, 2013 in Chicago Observations, History | Permalink | Comments (0)

Organization men


Seeing this 1954 photo of commuters getting off the Illinois Central train in Park Forest, Illinois, reminds me that I still want to read Walter H. Whyte's landmark study The Organization Man, which was based on the denizens of Park Forest, one of America's first centrally-planned suburbs. After Whyte's book, I'd also like to read The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit, Sloan Wilson's bestselling novel of the same era and subject matter. Based on this photo, it looks like Park Forest had quite a few gray-suited organization men back then.

August 5, 2013 in Books, Chicago Observations, History, Photography | Permalink | Comments (0)

Spencer Dew on Wheatyard

Spencer Dew writes a wonderful review of Wheatyard in the new issue of decomP.
But the point, of course, is never exactly what Wheatyard is writing, nor why, merely that he exists as this unceasing force, producing and producing, and that his existence and fecundity stands as an example, an inspiration...This wildness contrasts, in turn, with the carefully plotted prose of Sinclair Lewis, with the depressing practicality of Central Illinois, and with the narrator’s career-minded forward march, through boredom and bad company and bad faith. Wheatyard changes all of this, of course, by his sheer improbable and unforgettable existence, his unstoppable, irrational production, which, in that way, defies any economy.
This review warms my heart, because it really makes me feel that Spencer understood both Wheatyard and the narrator, which is what every writer hopes for. My sincere thanks go out to Spencer and editor Jason Jordan - Jason has been a casual friend and supporter of my writing for several years, having published my story "Moonlight" back in 2008.

August 5, 2013 in Fiction, Wheatyard | Permalink | Comments (1)

"I find the region on the whole quite weird..."

Emerging author Eric Lundgren:
One of my ambitions is to write about the Midwest not in a gently humorous mode, a la Garrison Keillor, or as a theatre for quietly snuffed realist dreams, but in a sort of estranged, almost grotesque mode, the way Flannery O’Connor wrote about the South, or the way Thomas Bernhard wrote about Austria. This could be a deeply bad idea. I find the region on the whole quite weird, including the widely held belief of its inhabitants that it’s a second-class place and not really worth discussing in detail.
His debut novel, The Facades, sounds interesting and is firmly on my radar.

August 1, 2013 in Books | Permalink | Comments (1)