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"...signs and portents..."

Joseph Mitchell recalls his friend Ralph Ellison.

I remember a conversation I had with Ralph the last time I saw him, which was at a party celebrating his eightieth birthday. It was held in a restaurant on the Upper East Side. I arrived early and so did Ralph and we went to the bar and ordered martinis. Ralph asked, "How’ve you been?" And I said that reading the New York Times was beginning to get me down, and that I was seeing all kinds of signs and portents in it. I said that invisible man fought his way out of invisibility but that I was afraid he was in danger of becoming invisible again. Ralph laughed and it was his old-time deep, hearty laugh, which pleased me. "You never got over the depression, did you Joe?" he said. "No I did not," I said. "Nor did I," Ralph said, "But this is an excellent martini—almost as good as the ones Fanny makes. So let’s drink these good martinis and talk about those signs and portents some other time."

June 29, 2017 in Books | Permalink | Comments (1)


"I am a camera with its shutter open, quite passive, recording, not thinking. Recording the man shaving at the window opposite and the woman in the kimono washing her hair. Some day, all this will have to be developed, carefully printed, fixed." - Christopher Isherwood

June 25, 2017 in Books, Photography | Permalink | Comments (0)

Will County Tour

I've lived in Joliet for seventeen years, but have visited only about half of the towns in Will County. So yesterday, near the end of my four-week sabbatical from work, I tried to rectify this, by visiting every town in the county, along with various unincorporated areas that are significant enough to have formal names. I targeted thirty-five communities, and Maddie rode along for most of the trip.

Long story short, I didn't even get close to my goal.  I only made it to twenty-two, for several reasons. First off, Will County is pretty damned big in terms of acreage. There is also only a meandering route for visiting every town, often on slower two-lane roads, plus I focused on the eastern end of the county (I live at the western end), where I had never been before. Lastly, Maddie and were pretty worn out by the end, and didn't want to keep Julie waiting for us until dark. We completely missed the southwest corner of the county, where there's a relative cluster of old coal mining towns, unlike the spread-out farm towns in the center and eastern end - so maybe, some Saturday, Maddie and I can do the remaining towns. 

The entire excursion lasted from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., with only two bathroom breaks and one stop for coffee. Maddie and I had a great trip. We still got home in time to enjoy a hearty dinner, at roughly our usual time.

Below is a photo from every town and hamlet we visited.



Memorial garden for Lidice, Czechoslovakia, Crest Hill.



Former schoolhouse, Romeoville.



Defunct bingo parlor, Bolingbrook.



Shelter built by the Civilian Conservation Corps, Lockport. 



Messenger Marsh, Homer Glen.



Marley Community Church, Marley.



Former grain elevator, Mokena.



Water tower, Frankfort.



 Governors State University, University Park.



Bandshell, Steger.



Al's Barber Shop, Crete. 



St. Paul's Church, Monee. 



Former livery stable, Beecher. 



Peotone Bowl, Peotone. 



Storage shed, Andres. 



Farm, Wilton. 



Abandoned store, Wilton Center. 



Creamery ice cream store, Manhattan. 



Fire station, New Lenox. 



Lily pond, Elwood.



Defunct laundromat, Rockdale. 



Barber shop (and former camera store), Joliet. 

June 24, 2017 in Photography, Travel | Permalink | Comments (1)

"The Piano Teacher's Pupil"

What a lovely surprise: in The New Yorker, a short story (previously unpublished, I assume) by the late William Trevor.

In the dark she pushed all that away, not knowing where it came from, or why it seemed to belong with what was happening now, but always it came back, as if a truth she did not understand were casting its light over shadows that had beguiled her once. Was theft nothing much, the objects taken so small, and plenty left behind? If she spoke, her pupil would not come again, even if she said at once that she forgave so slight a misdemeanor. Knowing so little, at least she was certain of that, and often did not look to see what was no longer there.

June 19, 2017 | Permalink | Comments (0)


"Through its lack of creativity, slowly but surely this country changes by the men we admire. It is not difficult for people to be snookered, particularly when the most successful movies deal with superheroes — Batman, Spider-Man. These are the big franchise movies that make money. Not just with kids, but adults. So, because of lack of imagination, maturity — many people in this country wanted a superhero. And then this TV guy comes along and says what? Only I can fix it...Only I can do this..." - John Mellencamp

June 18, 2017 in Current Affairs, Music | Permalink | Comments (0)


"There is no American capital; there never has been. We have a network instead. A French poet may plausibly know all other French poets by living in Paris. The smallest of American towns contains major poets, and all other kinds of artists. In no other country does such a distribution of mind appear." - Guy Davenport

June 16, 2017 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

Philip Levine

Lovely reflections here at the NYRB on the life of the great poet Philip Levine, including this wonderful comment from his mother:

“Philip set out to prove there is social mobility in America, so he got born smack-dab in the middle of the middle class, grew up in the lower middle class, and then as an adult joined the working class.”

I will definitely seek out The Final Shift, his newly-published final collection. 

June 11, 2017 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

Summer of Classics: H.G. Wells

For this year's Summer of Classics, I'm reading nothing but H.G. Wells. Since I was eight years old, I've owned a boxed paperback set of seven Wells science fiction novels: The War of the Worlds, The Time Machine, The Invisible Man, The Island of Dr. Moreau, In the Days of the Comet, The Food of the Gods and The First Men in the Moon. (He certainly liked "The..." titles, didn't he?) After all of these years, I've only read the first three, and since I'm woefully under-read in sci-fi in general, I decided to tackle these this year. The books are reasonably short (the longest is 250 pages) so I should be able to finish them all by the end of August.

First up is The War of the Worlds, which I'm enjoying so far. The narration is strange, though - most of it is in first person, though the narrator is physically distant from the Martians, so we mostly see only their destructive aftermath. And the remainder is the narrator relating the experiences of his brother during the Martian attack, in far greater detail than seems plausible. I just finished the first section, and I believe the focus of the second section moves from the invasion and attack, to English life under Martian rule. I'm interested to see the conclusion - having first read the book so long ago, I don't remember the ending, but I do remember the ending of Orson Welles' infamous radio play adaptation. Considering that Welles moved the action ahead fifty years, and from England to New Jersey, I'm wondering how much he tinkered with the conclusion.

June 11, 2017 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

"...a freedom to simply be..."

Elizabeth Strout, on small-town Maine versus New York City.

The sense of disappearing immediately when I step out into the streets of New York City has been a continual comfort to me. This gives me a freedom to simply be, to absorb all that goes on around me. But when I am in Maine, where there are very few people on the streets, I am encumbered by that sense of self – who is watching me?

I admire her fiction's focus on small towns, despite her obvious love of city life. Because, let's face it - we probably need a ten-year embargo on NYC stories to allow the fiction world to de-saturate itself.

June 10, 2017 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

Fading Ad: Ruettiger's Tire Service


Ruettiger's Tire Service - Vulcanizing - Road Service Dial 4153. Cass and Herkimer Streets, Joliet. (Yes, that Ruettiger family.) I've known about this ad for a while now, but just recently the newer canvas ads that covered most of it were removed. 

June 8, 2017 in History, Photography | Permalink | Comments (0)

Fading Ad: Shields Farr Printing & Engraving


Shields Farr Printing & Engraving, Rosa Parks Boulevard, Nashville, Tennessee. I couldn't find any historical info on this company online, but from my Google results I was pleased to see that my good friend Frank Jump already found this ad, seven years ago

June 7, 2017 in History, Photography | Permalink | Comments (0)

Fading Ads: Chattanooga, Tennessee

Without much effort, a short stroll after dinner around the Warehouse Row neighborhood in Chattanooga yielded several good ads. 


Graham Wholesale, Market Street. 


Grand Hotel, Market Street. 


Grand Hotel and Coca-Cola (which Julie thinks has been repainted), Market Street. 


Clyde's Auto Glass, Main Street. 


Spaghetti House, Market Street. A faded ad of sorts - an inlaid stone doorstep. 

June 3, 2017 in Photography | Permalink | Comments (0)