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Sometimes accidental photographic subjects are more interesting than what you intended to photograph. I was trying to snap a long-distance photo of the Santa Fe Grain Elevator from my fast-moving train, but although I did catch part of the elevator in this photo (at the center-right, beyond the telephone pole), far more interesting to me are the brick houses, garage and oddly-parked van in the foreground, plus the blurred rush of the trees. This is in McKinley Park on the near Southwest Side, at 33rd and Damen.

September 27, 2013 in Chicago Observations, Photography | Permalink | Comments (2)

"...fives, tens and twenties literally forgotten ..."

In the opening chapter of J.F. Powers' Morte D'Urban, the author introduces the protagonist Father Urban, a priest of the fictional Order of St. Clement who has a rather flexible relationship with the traditional vow of poverty.
As a Clementine, he possessed nothing, and the cassock he wore around the Novitiate was pocketless - St. Clement of Blois, the Holy Founder of the Order, having regarded pockets rather than money as the root of all evil - but Father Urban was away from the Novitiate most of the time, and while he was away his pockets filled up. Nevertheless, he was true to his vow of poverty - to the spirit, though, rather than the letter. For someone in his position, it could not very well be otherwise. Always, after an accounting at the Novitiate, there would be a surplus: not Mass stipends, which had to be turned in and processed, but personal gifts from grateful laymen and understanding pastors, fives, tens and twenties literally forgotten among Father Urban's effect or prudently held out because traveling first-class cost so much more than a tight-fisted bursar could be expected to make allowances for without losing respect for himself and his job.
I particularly like the term "tight-fisted bursar" - I'm envisioning a craggy, green-visored old man rolling his eyes at the latest expense report submitted. Coming in, I was hoping this book would be a more subtle cousin to Elmer Gantry, and I'm encouraged so far.

September 26, 2013 in Books | Permalink | Comments (2)

Hilton Head photographs

Last week we were on our semi-regular vacation in Hilton Head, South Carolina. As always I took a ton of photos, but since the natural geography never changes much there, I'll skip showing the usual sunsets, waves and mountains. Instead, this time I'll focus on some strange and quirky images I managed to capture.


Nothing symbolizes the heaven-and-hell, saint-and-sinner tension of the south for me quite like this roadside scene: the sprawling Adult World sex superstore, towered over by a giant cross. This perspective is deceiving: the cross (a quarter of a mile down the road) is actually much taller than the store. It's almost as if the cross was built to give customers one last reminder, as they step into the store, just whom they're pissing off by satisfying their craven urges.


Tunnel through an Appalachian mountain, in the Pisgah National Forest. Julie cringes every time we go through a tunnel, especially a long curving one like this where you can't see the other end.


I always know we're arrived in the south when the first Waffle Houses begin to appear. I like how the motel sign next door seems to comment on the regional orientation of the restaurant chain.


Strange cover illustration of James Agee's iconic autobiographical novel. If I didn't know better, this cover would lead me to believe that Agee's mother was some sort of human-butterfly hybrid.


Family portrait.


Narcissism, pure artsy narcissism.


I love the refreshing informality of Piggly Wiggly. Every other supermarket calls it bathroom tissue or toilet paper, but not The Pig, nosiree.

September 25, 2013 in Family, Photography | Permalink | Comments (2)

Fading Ad: Grocer


I was pleasantly surprised to come across this fading ad this past weekend, during our drive home from vacation (on Hilton Head Island, South Carolina). The ad is for an old grocery store in Lexington, Kentucky (343 E. High Street); the building now houses Common Grounds Coffeehouse. A fading ad and good espresso. Two of my favorite things.

September 23, 2013 in Photography | Permalink | Comments (1)

Tom Gauld and Wimbledon


I love this trio of cover illustrations created by Tom Gauld for Nigel Williams' "Wimbledon Poisoner" trilogy. Each cover stands beautifully on its own, but together they create a greater, cohesive whole. There certainly seem to be plenty of nefarious goings-on on this quiet Wimbledon block. I particularly like how the first and last covers imply classic whodunit mysteries, while the second cover enhances the whodunit motif...with aliens.

September 22, 2013 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

"Up the walls and down."

The following is one of many funny episodes in William Least Heat-Moon's Blue Highways: A Journey Into America. The author (whom the locals refer to here as "junior", probably due to his small stature) finds himself in a Cajun bar in Opelousas, Louisiana.
"Ever had yourself a Cajun woman?"

His question silenced the bar. "Don't think I have."

"Got some advice for you then - if you find you ever need it."

It was the quietest bar I'd ever been in. I answered so softly no sound came out, and I had to repeat, "What advice?"

"Take off your belt before you climb on so you can strap your Yankee ass down because you'll get taken for a ride. Up the walls and down."

Now the whole bar was staring, I guess to surmise whether my Yankee ass was worth strapping down. One rusty geezer said, "Junior ain't got no belt."

Walt looked at my suspenders and pulled one, letting it snap back. "My man," he said, "tie on with these and you'll get zanged out the window like a slingshot."
Sage advice for gentleman Louisiana travelers.

September 22, 2013 | Permalink | Comments (0)


"Coming here is following a call to be quiet. When I go quiet I stop hearing myself and start hearing the world outside me. Then I hear something very great." - Brother Patrick Duffy, from Blue Highways: A Journey Into America by William Least Heat-Moon

September 22, 2013 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

"...you and me is as good as anybody else, and maybe a damn sight better..."

H.L. Mencken is one of my literary heroes, and not just because we share a birthday. His erudite, curmudgeonly wit never fails to charm me, even though his now-dated cultural references often fly right over my head. I've read many scattered pieces of his here and there, but only one full book, the anthology The Vintage Mencken. With so much of his material available, I've struggled over which book of his to read next. But after reading this mention yesterday of The American Language on the Barnes & Noble site, I think my search has ended. Here's Mencken's "American" translation of the famous "all men are created equal" passage from the Declaration of Independence:
...All we got to say on this proposition is this: first, you and me is as good as anybody else, and maybe a damn sight better; second, nobody ain't got no right to take away none of our rights; third, every man has got a right to live, to come and go as he pleases, and to have a good time however he likes, so long as he don't interfere with nobody else. That any government that don't give a man these rights ain't worth a damn; also, people ought to choose the kind of goverment they want themselves, and nobody else ought to have no say in the matter. That whenever any goverment don't do this, then the people have got a right to can it and put in one that will take care of their interests.
Thank goodness Thomas Jefferson was so much more eloquent than the rest of us schmoes.

September 13, 2013 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

This is probably my favorite Simpsons segment ever.

No comment necessary.

September 13, 2013 in Television | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wheatyard reviewed, then reviewed again

It's been an unusually busy day for Wheatyard. First, this fine review from my good friend and writer Paul Lamb.
The reader, just like the unmoored graduate who is the narrator, is invited to speculate on the things left unsaid, to fill in the story that is untold, and in the end, to complete the tale in whatever way is most satisfying (including the tantalizing "satisfaction" of never really ever being able to know).
Then there's this equally fine review from James Claffey at Philadelphia Review of Books.
Anderson’s book is a subtle examination of the writer’s struggle, of the ghosts of Wheatyard’s parents and spectral sister, and of the importance of storytelling. Despite Wheatyard being a physically small book, beautifully produced by Kuboa, it is also a big, brave book written with precision and wholeheartedness.
Thank you, Paul and James!

September 11, 2013 in Wheatyard | Permalink | Comments (0)



This morning's dramatic sunrise almost looked like a Bierstadt landscape. With no mountains anywhere near Joliet, we have to rely on clouds for our grandeur.

September 11, 2013 in Joliet, Photography | Permalink | Comments (0)

Fond memory from 2008


Photo by Jason Pettus. Dang, that night was cold.

September 9, 2013 in Books, Fiction | Permalink | Comments (0)

Forgotten bookmark


In honor of the great Forgotten Bookmarks blog, here's a forgotten bookmark that I was pleased to find recently: an instruction manual for a KMC digital alarm clock (LED! 100% Solid State!), circa 1980s. Found inside Blue Highways: A Journey Into America by William Least Heat-Moon.

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

"...pastels to iridescents to no paint at all..."

In the opening chapters of Blue Highways: A Journey Into America, William Least Heat-Moon describes driving ever deeper into the Kentucky mountains.
The licks came out of the hills, the fields got smaller, and there were little sawmills cutting hardwoods into pallets, crates, fenceposts. The houses shrank, and their colors changed from white to pastels to iridescents to no paint at all. The lawns went from Vertagreen bluegrass to thin fescue to hard-packed dirt glinting with fragments of broken glass, and the lawn ornaments changed from birdbaths to plastic flamingoes and donkeys to broken-down automobiles with raised hoods like tombstones. On the porches stood long-legged wringer washers and ruined sofas, and, by the front doors, washtubs hung like coats of arms.
I really admire how he describes the steady progression into impoverished areas without ever mentioning poverty itself, but instead by its physical manifestations. Blue Highways has been on my shelf, never read, for ten years, since I picked up a bargain used hardcover at Brattle Book Shop in Boston. I'm really enjoying it so far, and am not sure why I've put it off for so long. Possibly from being intrigued but ultimately underwhelmed by Least Heat-Moon's later effort, River-Horse.

September 8, 2013 in Books | Permalink | Comments (2)


"Though my weekends go by soon enough, I look toward Monday without a sigh." - Studs Terkel

September 2, 2013 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)