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“Hilarity and drink are connected in a profoundly human, peculiarly intimate way.” - Kingsley Amis 

November 24, 2017 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

“...the splendor of the square window...”

Francesca Falk Miller, from her 1948 novel The Sands: The Story of Chicago's Front Yard:

Her own room was at the top of the house facing the street. It was the nursery during her babyhood, but had later become a schoolroom with the tiny alcove over the stairs for her bed. Tom had the hall bedroom at her back, and there was a dark bathroom between, where often Sulie would see the shine of a roach as it scurried to a hiding place under the tin tub. There was no window to this bathroom, but a square skylight showed blue sky and white clouds on clear days, and the stars on dark nights. Sulie who was never afraid of the dark, hated to light the wall-lamp and so shut off the splendor of the square window on the heavens above the tin tub and the roaches.

“Chicago’s Front Yard” is a misnomer, as the Sands (a desolate, nearly lawless stretch of squatter-inhabited lakefront during the mid-19th Century, long before beach property became fashionable) would have been better described as either Chicago’s back alley or its dumping ground. 

November 20, 2017 in Books, Chicago Observations | Permalink | Comments (0)


“Prettiness is only clothes I am a truer lover than that. I love it naked. There is beauty to me even in its ugliness … for its vices are often nobler than its virtues, and nearly always closer to a revelation.” - Eugene O’Neill

November 19, 2017 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

"...a mask for himself..."

"He had declined to stay in Norwood and live out his life as Pee Wee Gould, the town fool. If he had to play the fool, he would do it on a larger stage, before a friendlier audience. He had come to Greenwich Village and had found a mask for himself, and he had put it on and kept it on. The Eccentric Author of a Great, Mysterious, Unpublished Book - that was his mask. And, hiding behind it, he had created a character a good deal more complicated, it seemed to me, than most of the characters created by the novelists and playwrights of his time." - Joseph Mitchell, Joe Gould's Secret

November 17, 2017 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

“...the farther away you get from the literary traffic...”

Nelson Algren, interviewed in 1955 for The Paris Review by Alston Anderson and Terry Southern:

Interviewers: Do you have a feeling of camaraderie, or solidarity, with any contemporary writers? 

Algren: No, I couldn't say so. I don't know many writers. 

Interviewers: How do you avoid it? 

Algren: Well, I dunno, but I do have the feeling that other writers can't help you with writing. I've gone to writers' conferences and writers' sessions and writers' clinics, and the more I see of them, the more I'm sure it's the wrong direction. It isn't the place where you learn to write. I've always felt strong that a writer shouldn't be engaged with other writers, or with people who make books, or even with people who read them. I think the farther away you get from the literary traffic, the closer you are to sources. I mean, a writer doesn't really live, he observes.

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


"We live in a clownish time. We live in a clownish world. When you have a guy like Reagan, who may be the funniest guy in the world except for the fact that people take him seriously, how can anybody be serious unless he clowns as well? Very much like Lear's fool who can say the truth in his own way, Nelson is the clown who deep deep down is very serious in his comments about our world, and his reflections about our time. He teaches us about failures, and it's the failures that turn out to be more exciting than the successes. He's the funniest man around and can therefore be the most serious."
- Studs Terkel, in his 1985 afterword to Nelson Algren's The Neon Wilderness

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

“...nothin’ but blind baggage on a silk manifest...”

We heard the freight whistlin' just then and the fellas began to pick theirselves up - all exceptin' Fort. Ford has made up his mind he ain't goin' to hop nothin' but blind baggage on a silk manifest, and I couldn't convince him that there weren't no manifest due on the Soup line before November anyhow, and even that one would be goin' the other way. But all he would say was I will wait here till November then and if it is going the other way I will go the other way too. There isn't any reasoning with Luther when he is in that frame of mind, so I took two of the cans of Sterno and eighteen cents he still had in his watch pocket, and dragged him over to the side out of the way of the brakeman.

- Nelson Algren, "So Help Me" (from The Neon Wilderness)

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

“...only half a mile out in the woods, which were mined.”

He had turned me in once, at Camp Twenty Grand, when I was cooking up K-rations in my tent instead of remaining on duty guarding the officers' latrine in the rain. The enlisted men had developed an outrageous habit there of using it, instead of their own, during the night; although their own was a perfectly good one only half a mile out in the woods, which were mined. I'd wanted to even up on Witzel for the week of detail he'd gotten me that time, so I grabbed the rifle and shoved it under my coat, intending to drop it down the first convenient sump, but Chief had an even better idea.

- Nelson Algren, "The Heroes" (from The Neon Wilderness)

November 9, 2017 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

“...they would play the juke just to keep her from hearing.”

And strange walkers, out-of-step shufflers to nowhere, passed and repassed on the pavement below; beneath her bed she heard the muted laughter of the men she had known in the past months since Christy had left. All like the men the Widow had lived on: they laughed and stood closely together and nodded significantly toward the staircase leading to her room, and she knew even now they were talking about her.

She had seen them saunter to the bar in pairs and speak there in whispers, that she might not hear what they were saying about her: they would play the juke just to keep her from hearing. They were afraid to speak up because they knew in their hearts it was all lies, a lot of big lies. She would pretend to be unaware of them; but she knew, she knew all the time. Mary knew.

- Nelson Algren, "Design For Departure" (from The Neon Wilderness)

November 8, 2017 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

“...he knew every shadowed corner of North Clark Street...”

He had no need of any other, having sixty-five dollars. The delightful, varying ways he could distribute this sum, in all the devious city ways, crowded his mind. There was no room, in his anticipation, for anything but the city's changeful colors and the fastest means of spending sixty-five fish.

He had no friend, though he had lived in the city all his life. Yet he knew every shadowed corner of North Clark Street, every poolroom with darkened windows and a fake padlock on the door. All the curtained parlors and the right way to ring: one long and two short and ask for Marie.

- Nelson Algren, "Katz" (from The Neon Wilderness)

November 7, 2017 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

“...the kids pointed on me.”

He gave the detail trouble before he was twelve, when he was hauled out of a stolen truck he had crashed into a parked Pontiac on Mother Cabrini Street. He was wearing a pair of women's high-heeled pumps, no stockings, and a pair of overalls that fitted him like an awning. If it hadn't been for the pumps, he assured the detail, they'd never have gotten him: he couldn't run in them. And admitted, when pressed, that he's picked the pumps out of a Goose Island dump and stolen the overalls. That he had quit school "because the kids pointed on me." His small chin jutted, warning the officers that they'd better not point either; while his hair, which was red, hung angrily before his eyes.

- Nelson Algren, "No Man's Laughter" (from The Neon Wilderness)

November 6, 2017 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

“...he wasn’t much here any more at thirty-five.”

He had gone to sea at eighteen and had helped chase Sandino, one afternoon in Nicaragua, and now he wished to tell me more about Sierra La Valls. That was pretty little to grant a man, but I took sixes again and thought of him at forty. He'd only have one foot by then, if he was still around. In a way he wasn't much here any more at thirty-five. He too lay among the dead at Sierra La Valls. He'd keep on talking awhile, though, to whoever would listen, about that foggy morning at The Pimple. Then curtains. Game called, darkness.

- Nelson Algren, "Pero Venceremos" (from The Neon Wilderness)

November 3, 2017 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

“They were all beat now...”

Tiny snickered to himself mockingly. They were all beat now, one way or another. One running a ferris wheel at corner carnivals in summer and boozing all winter, one hung up on a morphine kick, another carrying buckets at the Marigold on Monday nights, and another walking around with a load of ties, under which he concealed defective contraceptives at cut-rate prices. "Some clowns," Tiny thought of them with disdain, fingering his discolored eye. "But all a guy like me needs is a million-dollar idea."

- Nelson Algren, "Million-Dollar Brainstorm" (from The Neon Wilderness)

November 3, 2017 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

“Daddy’s a-huntin’ a wild skirt is all...”

"All right, boys! Papooses now!"

"It makes them ferget their little troubles," the guard explained to the ladies.

The boys bowed their heads to their knees and murmured:
"Sleep, little Indian, safe from harm
Daddy's a-hunting the wild fawn."
"Daddy's a-huntin' a wild skirt is all," States offered under his breath. Silly Louie's hands flew to his mouth; when Louie started giggling he couldn't stop. The piano paused and the guard's earnest voice dropped discreetly; then everything stopped but the papooses' persistent murmuring. They rose heavily, one by one, and began a disordered out-of-tune clomping, toothbrushes bobbing, and went on clomping bravely, to minimize Louie's irrepressible tittering.

- Nelson Algren, "The Children" (from The Neon Wilderness)

November 2, 2017 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

“...ankle-deep in Kraut mutuel tickets...”

It wasn't an outfit. It was just a couple hundred oddly assorted Tennesseans, Texans and Chicagoans who wanted to go back to their respective hills, ranches, and streets. When we reached the Rhine the Germans were using hazardous fire, over our head, toward an artillery emplacement to our rear. In his haste to get those eagles, The Man had brought us forty miles ahead of our clearing station: they were looking for us to their rear. We were supposed to be ten miles behind them, to evacuate their wounded. Instead we were raising ward tents, ankle-deep in Kraut mutuel tickets, on a bombed-out race track in the woods above Dusseldorf. We put up the whole circus at night, under fire, including a tent to be used as an officers' club - and that one was up before we could erect our own squad tents.

- Nelson Algren, "That’s the Way It's Always Been" (from The Neon Wilderness)

November 2, 2017 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

“...the boarded windows and the broken panes...”

The hotel was down by the levee. You could see Kentucky from the front windows. Upstairs, I was told, was the bedroom in which Grant had slept before Fort Defiance. I remember the boarded windows and the broken panes by the river, and the abandoned feed stores facing the moving Ohio. Long freights passed in the woods in Kentucky. Their shadows, as any army's shadows, moved south on the moving waters. I remember their engine boilers lighting fragments, of floodtime in old December, strewn on Kentucky's shore.

- Nelson Algren, "Kingdom City to Cairo" (from The Neon Wilderness)

November 1, 2017 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

“...he and the baby would be out the same day.”

She would stand in the middle of the rutted road, a slight girl in a bright Sears, Roebuck printed frock, pointing proudly to her belly. He would cup his hands, the broom beneath his armpit, and call down to her that he and the baby would be out the same day. When she left he would feel so happy that he looked drunken. He would squeeze himself with both hands, wave his arms aimlessly, and would go through a little love dance, pretending the broom was his bride.

- Nelson Algren, "El Presidente de Mejico" (from The Neon Wilderness)

November 1, 2017 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

“...the scarred toes of the only decent shoes...”

Rocco didn't blow up. He just felt a little sick. Sicker than he had ever felt in his life. He walked away from the girl and sat on the rubbing table, studying the floor. She had sense enough not to bother him until he'd realized what the score was. Then he looked up, studying her from foot to head. His eyes didn't rest on her face: they went back to her feet. To the scarred toes of the only decent shoes; and a shadow passed over his heart. "You got good odds, honey," he told her thoughtfully. "You done just right. We made 'em sweat all night for their money." Then he looked up and grinned. A wide, white grin.

- Nelson Algren, "He Swung and He Missed" (from The Neon Wilderness)

November 1, 2017 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)