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Clark and Madison


Lively image of the bustling (northeast) corner of Clark and Madison, in 1948. Ah, to be able to take in a show at the Clark Theater, followed by some liquid refreshment at the Bamboo Inn or Kozer's Tap, and then an afternoon nap in an air-conditioned room at the Planters. None of which, sadly, is possible at that same corner today.

June 27, 2014 in Chicago Observations, History, Photography | Permalink | Comments (0)

Chuck Berry, music critic


I just love this: Chuck Berry reviews classic punk records. (Click image for a closer view.) I particularly like his take on "I Am the Fly" and "Unknown Pleasures" ("Sounds like an old blues jam that BB and Muddy would carry on backstage at the old amphitheatre in Chicago.") and his open job offer to Dave Edmunds. Not to mention the self-referential tone of many of his comments.

June 23, 2014 in Music | Permalink | Comments (0)

Haskell, Barker, Sullivan


Detail of Louis Sullivan's gorgeous cast-iron facades on the Haskell and Barker Buildings, at 18-22 S. Wabash. The facades were rediscovered during a 2009 renovation, under twenty coats of paint. Alas, the exposure meter on my iPhone wasn't quite up to task; capturing the black detail resulted in the white detail being partly washed out.

June 19, 2014 in Chicago Observations, History, Photography | Permalink | Comments (0)

"I want to put out stuff that’ll be around in 500 years."

Local writer and publisher Jerry Brennan had a thoughtful interview with NewCity last year, talking about his books and indie publishing house, Tortoise Books.

The self-publishing industry has no incentive to police itself, because people are paying them up front for editing, promotion and other services. And if you’re paid up front, you have no stake in the future success of a book—you want to do as little as you can do to justify the fees you’ve charged. And that’s one thing the traditional publishing industry DID get right—if an agent only gets paid when you get a deal, and they get a percentage of that deal, they want to get you the best deal possible, and they want you to get more deals, because they have a stake in your success.

I like the ethos encapsulated by the quotation in the title line above - putting out great and enduring books, but not necessarily what sells. Jerry sounds like my kind of people, and I strongly suspect he'll be getting a query from me soon.

June 19, 2014 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wabash & Delaware


I love this 1963 image by Vivian Maier. It almost looks like there's another world below the sidewalk, barely visible through a jagged fissure.

June 18, 2014 in Chicago Observations, Photography | Permalink | Comments (0)

"...the tang and sorrow and joy of a people..."

From James T. Farrell's Young Lonigan (the first volume of the Studs Lonigan triology):

The July night leaked heat all over Fifty-eighth Steet, and the fitful death of the sun shed softening colors that spread gauze-like and glamorous over the street, stilling those harshnesses and commercial uglinesses that were emphasized by the brighter revelations of day. About the street there seemed to be a supervening beauty of reflected life. The dust, the scraps of paper, the piled-up store windows, the first electric lights sizzling into brightness. Sammie Schmaltz, the paper man, yelling his final box-score editions, a boy's broken hoop left forgotten against the elevated girder, the people hurrying out of the elevated station and others walking lazily about, all bespoke the life of the community, the tang and sorrow and joy of a people that lived, worked, suffered, procreated, aspired, filled out their little days, and died.

And the flower of this community, its young men, were grouped about the pool room, choking the few squares of sidewalk outside it.

The flower of the community...doing nothing more than loitering outside of a pool room. As Algren might have said, some flower.

June 12, 2014 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

"...still driveling in slack-jawed blackguardism..."

George Bernard Shaw was once invited to pre-order a copy of James Joyce's then-forthcoming novel, Ulysses. He declined, making this marvelous reply.

To you possibly it may appeal as art...but to me it is all hideously real: I have walked those streets and know those shops and have heard and taken part in those conversations. I escaped from them to England at the age of twenty; and forty years later have learnt from the books of Mr. Joyce that Dublin is still what it was, and young men are still driveling in slack-jawed blackguardism just as they were in 1870. It is however, some consolation to find that at last somebody has felt deeply enough about it to face the horror of writing it all down and using his literary genius to force people to face it...

Praising the author, while damning the subject matter. Well done, GBS.

June 12, 2014 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

Fifteen years ago today.


June 12, 2014 in Personal | Permalink | Comments (1)

Fading Ad: Dexter Folder Company


Fading ad for Dexter Folder Company, on Harrison Street in the South Loop. At first I assumed that Dexter once made folders of the manila file variety, but I subsequently learned that its folders were actually automatic folding machines that were used to assemble newspapers, books and magazines. Which makes perfect sense: this building is immediately adjacent to Printer's Row, the city's old publishing district.

June 10, 2014 in Chicago Observations, History, Photography | Permalink | Comments (0)

"Mother and Child, Tuam"

I wrote this story yesterday morning, after being saddened by this report a few days ago. Ordinarily I sit on new stories for a while, and slowly hone them into shape before loosing them on the public, but this one had an urgency I couldn't resist. For the most part this has been only minimally edited from what was originally written, so I apologize in advance for any errors or inconsistencies. Getting the story out seemed more important than getting it perfect.

Mother and Child, Tuam

Rest assured, dear, that your child is in a better place. Now, I can’t recall, was it a boy or a girl? A boy, yes, that’s right, a dark-haired imp, full of spirit, destined from birth to be trouble. What’s that? Red-haired? A ginger? Oh, I had forgotten that. Even more so, then. Full of trouble, though maybe with the right guidance from the sisters over there he might have found his way into the holy life. Maybe even had the call, and became a priest. Wouldn’t that be a fine thing? Glorious, even.

Maybe that’s what his life has become, though they do things differently in America than we do here. Life there is...freer, they probably say, but I say looser. To them faith isn’t so important, just a part of their lives with their careers and chasing money, and not the biggest part as it should be. The men carouse, the women smile and spread their legs, and if something happens there’s a doctor to take care of it. Carousing men, loose women.

Why no, dear, I don’t mean to say you were loose, wanton, even if the same something that happens to American women happened to you. That Kenny of yours...right, that Gordie, he should have done right by you, marrying and making you an honest woman. Instead of a fallen woman. Now, dear, don’t cry. You can’t deny you’re a fallen woman, no matter that Gordie was the cause of it. Yes, you’re fallen, but the wonderful thing about falling is that you’re not down forever, but you can take the hand of God and be lifted back up. This is 1955, not the Dark Ages, and you won’t be stoned to death for your sins. You’ll be forgiven, if you’re truly repentant, and lifted back up. Which will be easier without the burden of a child.

Your boy is off in America, with a good family - originally from Cork, I recall - and surely has a better chance at a good and holy life than he would here, with you. That is, if he can fight the temptations. The Church isn’t as strong there as here, but there he can be raised in the faith and someday find honest work, in a factory at least and not here digging ditches or the like.

Why yes, dear, of course he’s in America, with a good Cork family. We had to take him away that one night, deathly ill with what we feared was consumption, but after a few weeks in hospital we found it was a false alarm, and we brought him back to you - don’t you remember how he hiccuped and smiled when I handed him to you? - and soon he was right as rain. Yes, he did come back, and not long after the sisters found a home for him in America.

We’ve done well, surprisingly well, in finding them homes. Far better than one might expect from a small order in Galway, and an even smaller mother and baby home, far from America or London or even Dublin. But Mother Eileen has close friends in Dublin and New York, sisters she went through convent school with as a child, who know powerful people who know families eager to adopt children from the old country. We’ve sent hundreds of boys and girls to England and America, and though we’re supposed to be humble I must admit my pride in our success. Indeed, hundreds of children, maybe seven or eight hundred, I’ve lost count...

Yes, dear, we brought your boy back from hospital. Enough. I’m tired of reassuring you, over and over. He was sick, very sick, when we took him from you, but he recovered enough to bring him back. I handed him to you myself, remember? He hiccuped, and smiled. But maybe you were delirious then, even hysterical. Yes, I remember now, you certainly weren’t aware of all that went on back then. After you delivered the baby you weren’t right for a long time. Now, don’t cry. Enough. Enough!

And don’t keep asking about your boy. He’s healthy and safe and living with a good Limerick family. No, Cork - a Cork family in America. Yes, he’s healthy and safe, and there’s no need to worry. So, enough.

June 8, 2014 in Fiction | Permalink | Comments (0)

Vienna Sausage


A true Chicago icon: the Vienna Sausage Company (now "Vienna Beef") at its grand opening in 1894. The building was at Halsted Street and 12th Street (now Roosevelt Road) near the legendary Maxwell Street open market, but no longer exists after the entire neighborhood was redeveloped as University Village during the early 2000s. Although the sign claims the company's products as "celebrated" and thus indicates the company was already in existence at this time, this may have been its first permanent location. The company first rose to fame during the 1893 Columbian Exposition in Chicago.

June 6, 2014 in Chicago Observations, History, Photography | Permalink | Comments (0)

Atwood on feminism

At Goodreads, Margaret Atwood answers the question, "Do you consider yourself a feminist?"

I never say I'm an "ist" of any kind unless I know how the other person is defining it (Am I against lipstick, etc.) but in general: I believe women are full human beings (radical, I realize). And that laws should reflect this. However, men and women are not "equal" if "equal" means "exactly the same." Our many puzzlements and indeed unhappinesses come from trying to figure out what the differences really mean, or should mean, or should not mean.

Wise response, that.

June 6, 2014 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

"And the lull of the Stevenson, beckoning you to stilted dreams at night."

I really like this poem by Susan Hogan, "The Ballroom Artists' Commune", published at Anthology of Chicago. Further digging reveals that this place, the Archer Ballroom, actually exists in the Bridgeport neighborhood, as a residential artists' colony (I resist the loaded term "commune") and performance space. The "Stevenson" referenced above is the expressway that runs directly behind the building, undoubtedly making the building much more affordable for artists and resistant to yuppie gentrification.

I'm intrigued by the concept of a colony like this; just the idea of all of that creative energy bouncing around, along with the colorful but inevitably hardscrabble existence. But I'm fully aware that such a place would never have worked for me, even during my younger days. (I'm a loner, and didn't even have a roommate when I went back to grad school during my mid-twenties.) I would gladly settle for merely writing fiction set in a place like Archer Ballroom, rather than actually living it.

June 5, 2014 in Books, Chicago Observations | Permalink | Comments (0)

"...the free open ways..."

As I wind down my reading of Carl Sandburg's Chicago Poems, here's one last, lovely excerpt.


She sits in the dust at the walls
     And makes cigars,
Bending at the bench
With fingers wage-anxious,
Changing her sweat for the day's pay.

Now the noon hour has come,
And she leans with her bare arms
On the window-sill over the river,
Leans and feels at her throat
Cool-moving things out of the free open ways:

At her throat and eyes and nostrils
The touch and the blowing cool
Of great free ways beyond the walls.

Really wonderful poetry. I'm glad I finally got around to reading it, and will be on the lookout for more of his collections, especially Cornhuskers, which includes a poem about Joliet!

June 2, 2014 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)