A podcast on crimecitycentral a few weeks back
Chicago Clair de Lune
By Wayne Allen Sallee
I am happy today, quite ecstatic, actually, because the opera gloves arrived in the mail. I realize that I could have bought the gloves from any given store along State Street on any given minute of my own personal time. But I work at a job in the Loop that I hate, as must be the case with so many other people here. I pass by more faces during my lunch hour than would populate an entire town in Livingston County, and every single face is perched on a slumped over body with big vacant half-smiles that all say “Look at me, I envy the dead!”
Of course, that’s my take on it. As much as I dislike my job, what sets me apart from the zombies is that I can do things on company time like order from catalogues and have them delivered to me at the office. I work in the mailroom of a law firm on Monroe Street, there’s no harm in my thinking that out loud. As long as I keep it to a low mutter, it might cause a few quick stares, but that’s to be expected in a city of cowards who think it best to keep their thoughts buried deep.
I get some stares from the women, and a few of the suits, who work for the firm, but the place takes up three floors of the New Mandel Building, so huge a place that most people don’t even know my name. Or anything about me.
Other than that, as of today, I started wearing white opera gloves when handing out the mail.
They really do improve circulation and keep my fingers nimble and my mind sharp, and it makes me wonder why anybody would buy similar gloves they sell at Walgreens. That type is a fingerless, flesh-colored thing that is supposed to fight carpal tunnel stress along with what I mentioned -–well, mumbled—above. They look really ragged after use – I’ve seen waitresses and this one woman working the cash register at the Marquette Inn with them on – and I swear when someone wears them they look like an extra in Soylent Green or some other post-apocalyptic Charlton Heston film.
Give me opera gloves any day of the week, any day of my life.
Another reason I like to wear them, and this is when I’m away from the office, is because the blood looks so good on the white silk. And the blood beads for just the briefest of moments, sharp and clear in the night sky, before it soaks into the fingers and palms.
That’s the reason I buy from the catalogue so much; I really don’t like washing the gloves after I’ve used them just that once. Even with bleach, the gloves at best turn a light pink.
Another of my catalogue purchases arrives tomorrow. From some place down in Bayou Goula, Louisiana that sells survival gear.
I paid nice money for a knife. Once I saw it, I had to have it, had to replace the one that worked so well all the other times. The blade is serrated, and there are finger holes so I can better hold on to it. The knife is supposed to be used for gutting fish. I’m guessing that there are a lot of fish to be caught in Bayou Goula. I looked it up, it’s right on the Red River, near Baton Rouge.
Just thinking about that knife, not concerned about my co-workers who are looking at me as I drop the daily mail into their bins, I can almost hear Clair de Lune playing in my mind. The clear
f-sharp piano key that starts the song. The sound I hear when I have my knife out and I’m showing it to my companion for the evening.
Clair de Lune.
Or maybe it’s the Rolling Stones’ “Jumpin’ Jack Flash.”
Or maybe the theme from Josie & The Pussycats. You know, they had long tails, and ears for hats.
Maybe it’s not even f-sharp anymore, I can never tell ever since that glass went into my ear when my college chum Negovan smashed his Dodge Neon into the front display of Carpetland USA two years ago. He’s the one who was always playing “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” on his guitar. I don’t hear from him anymore, but I heard from someone else that he cut a demo tape with Celine Dion or Alannis Morisette of one of those girl singers.
I’m not entirely certain why I know all the words to Josie & The Pussycats.
Ah, but Clair de Lune, now that is the ultimate dance song. For when you need to dance…
up close and personal.
Sometimes I think that this is what living in Chicago is all about, dancing the dance. I really can’t recall the last time I heard anybody refer to it as a rat race. I suppose no one wants to be made out to be a bad guy. And we all know rats are bad, right?
Dancers are ok, though. Think about it, on any given weekend night, there are more figure skating specials televised than there are sitcoms or thrillers. You think competing in some freaky program in the name of some sponsor like Campbell’s Soup or the Heinz 57 Varieties of Ketchup Invitational doesn’t’ make you into a rat? You just become a rat wearing skates. Well, even if I wanted to be a cutthroat competitor, I’m not graceful enough for ice skates. Or roller-skates. I can’t even bowl all that well, truth be told.
But I certainly can dance with grace. No one hears me coming until I’m right up next to them.
And I look good in the opera gloves, if I do say so myself.
Some people, hell, most people, look at me as if I am wearing a cardboard sign that reads
I HAVE ANTHRAX BUT WILL WORK FOR FOOD. Now, I really don’t advertise and I certainly do not look like a Gulf War veteran, except maybe for my right eye that tends to float if I do not concentrate.
Recent example: there’s this woman who runs an employment agency on the 11th floor; she wears these spiked heels that sound like gunshots down the hallway. See, she has to come down to the floor I work on because the women’s lounge is past the elevators. I’ll never understand why all the office buildings allow the women such comforts, whereas all the men’s rooms resemble interrogation booths. I sit in the stall long enough, trying to go, and I end up thinking I’m the Manchurian Candidate.
Well, getting back to the woman, last week she had come to work wearing sneakers for some reason – maybe she had the stiletto pumps in her big, floppy purse – and the delivery room door was open and there I was with the gloves…and the knife. I was able to push it into my pants pocket and made it look like I was adjusting my shirt, tucking it in. My heart was beating like a freight train, I’ll tell you for true. And it was strange, but as she paused in the hallway with that look on her face, time slowed down and I could hear the first strains of Clair de Lune, and when I moved closer to her the piano notes changed and they echoed in my head and they were like sledgehammers on railroad spikes.
I’m certain that if she hadn’t been wearing sneakers we would have started dancing. After she was gone, the railroad spikes went away, and I started to hear that theme music from Josie & The Pussycats again. Long tails, and ears for hats.
Guitars as sharp as glass.
Josie & The Pussycats.
I suppose it could be worse, me retaining, say, the Banana Splits song. Beagle, Fleegle, Drooper, and Snork were their names, but don’t quote me on the spelling. I really don’t know why I remember this stuff, I really don’t.
Old Sanjay, who runs the little stand downstairs that sells lottery tickets and porno magazines, told me a few weeks later that the woman must’ve quit because no one had seen her at all, not even Larry the UPS man. I talk with Sanjay Gupta most every day. I don’t wear the opera gloves in the lobby – even though I don’t play the lottery. Now it’s not because of the porno magazines either. He sells all these different kinds of magazines because the Bonneville Flats Hotel is just on the other side of Wells Street, and he gets a lot of tourists with time on their hands. I mean, I’ve got time on my hands, too. Whole chunks of it, but you don’t see me looking at pictures of women. Or pictures of men. Or pictures of women and men and farm animals, for that matter. I just happen to like having conversations with Sanjay.
He agrees with me that there is nothing you can control anymore. I have told him that I have seen the future, and it is held together by duct tape. He laughed at this with his big white teeth.
Everything that matters is out of hour hands. All the sharp dressed men and maybe a few of the women, all of them wearing sharkskin gray suits and long tails with ears for hats, are behind it all. There is no real conspiracy about it, because the only things that they really control mean absolutely nothing to me. I’m not driven by money, or fame, none of that.
But it’s not like I’m without purpose, without ambition, either.
The opera gloves give me focus. The knife provides my center of being.
I can stop looking taciturn, walking down Monroe Street nodding my head at all the proper moments like it was a scene from Invasion of The Body Snatchers.
The next time I tried to take a bit of control back was on the Lawrence Avenue bus. This little fat guy with a goatee, looked like a real beatnik from hell, he’s got claustrophobia and starts telling people that he had to have a window open. Only he pronounced it “ween-dow.” Plus, it was twenty below with the wind chill. Still, he starts poking whoever would look up from their glamour magazine or newspaper. “Somebody open a ween-dow.” With me and everybody else freezing our butts off because the bus had a faulty heater.
Why is it that some people can’t keep their problems inside? Or at least wait until the bus dropped them off at their stop. Take it to their own neighborhood. Man, you’d think. Well, this was before I became my own version of a sharp-dressed man, but I still had my good buddy, the knife.
I could have done it, touched him right there in rush hour, on Lawrence Avenue, the thing in my pants pocket pointed at-the-ready. My good little buddy. I could’ve done it quick, then left by the back door, gone and had some greasy food at The Huddle House while the commuters and pedestrians screamed and ogled appropriately.
I wouldn’t have done that, though. Because I don’t live in the neighborhood, whatever the area is called where the Ravenswood El ends at Kimball. Can’t be a hypocrite about bringing one’s problems into public.
That’s why it’s important for a person to find private times. For those intimate moments.
What I did was follow the nutbag beatnik off the bus at Petersen and walked a careful eight steps behind him until he turned down an alley at Central Park.
Then I took out the knife and opened up a ween-dow in his torso.
Thinking back on it, that might have been when I decided to get the opera gloves. I didn’t particularly like the way the goateed and gutted complainer touched my bare fingers with his flabby stomach.
I’m confused about why a lot of things started.
I don’t know why I know lyrics to old cartoon show theme songs. I don’t know why wearing opera gloves makes me feel less stressed-out. It was never the same when I wore the boxers or the panties or the false teeth that gave me an extra overbite.
And I certainly don’t know why people stop moving when they get off an escalator. You’re right behind them, still on the escalator, do they expect you to vibrate through them? There are days that I think that my consciousness is made up of unstable molecules.
Who quit bothering me first? The claustrophobe, the employment lady, the girl with all the sharp pussycats, people I’ve never mentioned because I forgot to remember certain incidents?
You, perhaps? I hope it hasn’t been an inconvenience sharing this cab?
Or are we at the same table at The Huddle House? Or in the check out line at some sporting goods store on Michigan Avenue? Or, best of all, in the same elevator, in the same building, back where it all started.
Can’t you hear the elevator music? It’s a bad recording, overly tinny, but unmistakable.
Clair de Lune.
Hey, it’s our stop. Time to get off.