Saturday, February 24, 2007

Contents Of A Dead Man's Pockets

Charles Gramlich has recently posted on overlooked writers and I'd have to add Jack Finney to the lot. Most known for his novel INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS, he wrote several novellas involving time travel and ghosts of Hollywood actresses in the 1920s, and some of the best damn short stories this side of Robert Bloch. There is a story that has stayed in my head since high school, and I have never seen this story in a collection (The Chicago Public Library information desk verified it was indeed Finney), but it is still crystal clear in my mind. A man in a Manhattan skyscraper finds himself on a ledge after trying to retrieve an errant legal document that has flown out the window. His suit jacket is on his chair and he ponders what people would make of the loose change and laundry tickets in his various pockets, none of which held his ID. I have in my wallet a folded piece of hotel writing paper a note someone has written, hoping to find information about a dead friend. Perhaps notes were left on buses everywhere; I found this as my eyes strayed from a Dennis Lehane novel in the year 2000. I look at the words every so often and wonder if the writer ever did get the information (s)he wanted, from the somewhat primitive way of leaving notes, or at least that one, solitary note. I'd like to think that there were more out there, that autumn weekday 7 years ago. I reflected on what might found on my body should the Reaper take me for my last ride to the dirt nap farm. I almost posted a photo from my mugging last summer when my wallet was indeed stolen and I was kicked into a muddy drainpipe on a day that rained torrents. I chronicle everything, my friend Greg took the photos as my wounds were still wet. It doesn't belong to this post, though, because these words are not about graphic photos, but of varied items of note and a tiny pleading for information on the dead Eddie Curry. RIP, Mr. Curry.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Face Value

Many people commented on my post involving the men pacing the steam vents last Saturday, marking their territory. Charles Gramlich mentioned something that also happened to me, and I turned it into a story back in the days when I wasn't writing very good stories. Again I mention sucking with hyperlinks, so you can go to Razored Zen and read Charles' newer entries. Check my links at the left sidebar, below my horrid self-promotion. Back in the early 1980s, when I barely had money for bus fare, I was approached by a guy near the old Hotel Leland on Wabash, with exterior and interior shots provided. He was bearded, fairly lucid, and wanted to sell me pages of drawings and random thoughts from a stack of sheets in his hand. I still remember the stack, it was like order receipts on one of the pointed things in a low class restaurant. I explained that I could barely get home, the irony of the green and red building behind me not lost, and I promised him next time I would have a few extra dollars. But I have never seen him again, at a time when I would see the homeless often enough to know them by name, Jerome with his crippled leg pulled up under him like a broken puppet, Dave the guy with the Elvis sideburns, and Mike in the wheelchair, who became the model for Mike Surfer in my novel THE HOLY TERROR. But I never saw the bearded man with the drawings again, even though I was at the bus stop almost every day. Did he get a job? Did he take a bus to Portland? I ended up writing a story called "Face Value," which in my own ham-fisted way of writing in those first five years or so, was a story about my quest to find the man, culminating in following him into an alley, after spotting him after months of looking. Turns out the reason I wasn't seeing him was that the bearded face from real life was a mask, one of many skinned faces he had on a wall in an old factory, my face likely to be the next. It appeared in Gorezone, an offshoot of Fangoria, and marked the first time that my name appeared on a cover of a magazine. This was 1990. The man and his drawings that were always out of my grasp had stayed in my head for almost six years. Maybe he had moved south to bother Charles or found his way via steamer to Johannesburg, where at least the weather is warmer all year round, and eventually he will run into Etain and she will write a story about him, as well. Sometimes it is those with nothing that allow us the six degrees of separation.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Saturday Night, An Elevated Hell

Saturday night is a different story than what you see from above. I went to the north side to look for the new T. Jefferson Parker novel, trying to keep certain things from my mind, one of them being that I'd be incommunicado with a good friend of mine for a few days. Always a dame, right, Indelli? (A line from one of my Jonny Algiers stories.) But by the time I got back downtown it was dark, and men were marking their territory on the steam vents, one which is barely visible behind the bus at the Chicago Theater. I came up the subway steps to go to the elevated Orange Line, still thinking and in all reality attempting to forget the -10 wind chill. I locked eyes with a man pacing on the steam vent across from the theater, we both looked away, each of us perhaps trying to find a grain of spirituality before returning to the cold reality of the night. In more ways than one. I gave him a fiver and climbed the wooden stairs to the platform two stories above.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

We Even Lost Superman

Etain had an interesting blog dealing with a book on writing prompts that she talked at length about in her usual brilliant multiple personality stream-of-consciousness way. What was interesting, though, was the majority of comments men made about what makes men cry. I was emailing both Sid and Dan earlier, and the thought kinda stayed in my head. I cried after 9/11, but not until I had a complete meltdown about two weeks later, when the reality of our new century sucker punched me. I wasn't able to write for weeks. I worked it through by writing a story which involved my niece Ashley, titled "I'll Never Be Able To Protect Her Again." Many times my stories answer questions that need to be answered before I can move on. Also, there is a country and western video of Kenny Rogers singing his song "The Last Ten Years." (Sorry, Etain, that its not Headbanger Ball time). There's a line that goes "we lost Johnny and June Carter Cash, we even lost Superman." Then he looks up at a shooting star and says "We miss you, Chris." I can tell you forever about my love for the words and voice of Johnny Cash (who incidentally passed on 9/11/03), but the only other sucker punch I got this century (not counting my two muggings), was when Christopher Reeve died in October of 04. It was a Sunday and I saw it on AOL as soon as the screen blipped on. I wept completely before even reading the story as my dial-up computer brought the images up so slowly. Crap. I'm actually welling up now, quite seriously. In my collections of stories, I list those recently passed, and I added Chris Reeve to FIENDS BY TORCHLIGHT even though I never knew him. I always say "I'll catch up with you and tell you how everything else played out." I can take my border collie out later and we can stare at the sky together and I can tell him that one day I am going to meet Superman.

Solitary Snowmen & Alien Ice Cream

I realized that I have never posted this snowman from hell that I took a photo of last winter inside the Flatiron Building. Its warming up, even though it snowed again yesterday, and I actually ate my favorite food group--ice cream--without freezing or constricting my throat. I have discovered this fantastic brand, but let me say this, is it only me, or does the logo look like a little alien with a cow head as a mask, like ready to be pulled down and fool us into alien domination through French Vanilla ice cream? Really, am I the only one who thinks this? That snowman is the first space ambassador, too...

Friday, February 16, 2007

Moon Suits & The Cows Who Love Them

I have been telling Sid and Etain, the two friends I usually email on a near-daily basis, that while our weather has me dressing in enough layers to make me look like a color-coordinated astronaut (quite a few people look like giant scoops of varied blends of yogurt or Play-Doh). Last night the last bus I could take broke down, I waited an hour for a bus in wind chills that were minus 30 degrees and pretty much seeing my life flash before my eyes, usually portions of my life that happened in the summer months. I thought of setting a fire, but all that was around me was frozen snow, and a briefly cackled like a hyena and wondered which layer of clothing would burn longest and that I wouldn't miss, and of course, cost the least amount. When I told Bart at work this morning, he said I should have walked to his house, maybe a half-mile away. I said that thought had also crossed my mind, but my legs were so cold, I moved like the Terminator would if he for some reason wore a diaper and for still another reason had crapped in them. Another bus finally showed up with a replacement driver, my feet warmed up about an hour after I arrived home, and I finally posted my photo of the cows looking at the meteor. That damn meteor was probably warmer than I about eighteen hours ago.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Happy Valentine's Day, Do I Amuse You?

Two separate drawings my niece Ashley has given me over the years. I love the Chinese spelling of my name in the second one, I told her that I had a book signing in Denver once where the store owner spelled the name just that way. We will always be best friends, but I placed the first drawing up, which shows that I could explain certain aspects of the movie GOODFELLAS without having Ashley actually watch it. She was using that Joe Pesci line for weeks at school when she was in 5th grade. By putting the two together, I create a cautionary tale for us guys. Do the right thing on Valentine's Day or you might get shot by a four foot tall convict in a clown car.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Pass The White-Out!

Well, I was on another 12 hour shift yesterday and tried to post last night, but my photos of cows watching a meteor came up as HTML. Now we are in the midst of a raging blizzard, I have no clue when I can leave the graphics shop, but at least if zombies show up, I should be able to outrun them!

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Stark Images On Yet Another B&W Night

There was a time when my arm had a funny shape to it. Well, a funnier shape. The second photo (well, scan) shows the hardware that was in my left arm after it was shattered in 1989. A friend of mine was telling me recently about some body piercings she had that didn't take, her body rejected them. Well, the same happened with the plates, they kept breaking, or unscrewing, and then breaking, even after even wider plates were placed inside me. Finally, the doctors gave up and grafted part of my right hip into my arm. (I have since told etain that all my body modifications were purely accidental--all 37 scars--or caused by dumb Polak luck. I have no truly workable circulatory system in my left hand. But I'm not complaining. Take a look at the new hand of Stan Weiskopf, one of the embedded reporters in Iraq. Pictured in TIME holding the last page he ever wrote on with his now-disintegrated hand. It's people like Stan as much as the joy of reading and tormenting my fellow writers that keep me at this one-fingered pecking with the howling wind as my companion. Goodnight everyone. Wayne

B&W Thoughts On Yet Another B&W Night

This is what the weather must be like in space. But the cold is not the point. I have been reading the more or less collected works of a complete stranger and continue to sit here stunned. Things run through my head at times...what was lost when the library at Alexandria burned? How many writers give up before they get a chance to be noticed? Words wrapped around faces in a crowd, images on the Internet. Reading what I have over the past few hours makes me content, knowing that there will be people writing fantastical things on the day of my death and beyond. Until its time for my dirt nap, I remain your chattel, Wayne. (Now talk amongst yourselves...)

Wednesday, February 7, 2007

More B&W Photos For a B&W Night

Its late, its cold, and the last photo isn't even in B&W. But we have snow on the ground, hence the B&W Night part. The bottom photos were taken in various parts of the city itself. The top photo is of a makeshift cross notifying whoever reads it that Barbara was RIP there on August 8th 1998, presumably in a car accident. This is where I used to get the bus when I worked in the Loop, now it is where I get off the bus at night. If you can read the strip mall sign, it says Four Cities Plaza, because there at 87th & Cicero, going clockwise to each corner, you are in Chicago, Hometown, Oak Lawn, and Burbank. Morpheus beckons...Wayne

Sunday, February 4, 2007

Wabash & Lake, February 4th, 1977

There are those "Where where you?" questions people ask where you fill in a date, 9/11 having pushed JFK's assassination away from first place, at least for my generation. As with other cities, and other countries, those "Where were you?" questions are compartmentalized to a certain area, even to certain people, i.e., commuters. My friend Von was working in the Loop when this happened, though the accident occurred before her regular step-on point. I had just started college and knew of the el because of going to get my college texts at used book stores on Clark Street's then-Skid Row, although I took the bus and passed beneath the el at both Van Buren and again at Lake. In my opening lines of PAIN GRIN, I use a passage I wrote years before ever putting it in a book: "I once thought that the loudest thing I could hear was the passage of the el train at the intersection of Wabash and Lake." No doubt, it was the acoustics from the back end of the Chicago Theater and the thirty or so floors of jewelry stores in the Mossner Building, but the sound was like nothing else you could hear when you were downtown. During the late 70s, we had terrible winters, with snow, then ice, then snow on top of that. Weather like we are having this week but with weeks worth of frozen snow on the ground, and the train trestles. The Lake Street train (the Green Line) came around the corner and hit the Brown Line train (which eventually travels north and west). The train cars buckled up and came off the tracks and kept tumbling over the ice and towards the ground. This was on a Friday rush hour run. 11 people died, 2 on the ground. Steel I beams have since been erected at most el curves, directly because of this accident. Imagine the days without cellphones and text messaging (which I have now found the newest generation to call texting)? Passengers on Flight 93 knew what Mohammed Atta and his crew had done back in Manhattan within minutes of the towers falling. Several summers ago, a back porch on a three flat fell upon the two underneath in an alley near Wrigley Field, pinning people underneath boards and nails. The thing I recall more than anything else is one person telling the news that they were in a tavern nearby, and within seconds of each other, almost every cell phone started ringing. In 1977, people were trapped in those cars, not able to tell their families that they were OK. Because the train ride is a routine, when I worked downtown, I was on the Orange Line train that entered Quincy Station at 5:14 every evening. Families knew which trains their fathers or mothers would be on. Today, I am hearing stories about that day on the news (overshadowed by pre-Superbowl party coverage), and in a few emails. News stories are compiled at http://www.chicago-l-org/articles/1977crash.html which is where I acquired the photos posted above. The photos always look surreal to me, in a city that seems bizarre on a daily basis. Wayne

Saturday, February 3, 2007


When commenting on my writing a few days ago, drizel (etain) typed the sound of an old electric typewriter; I did her one better, saying that I had a manual typewriter, a Smith Corona Galaxy Twelve, which was given to me in 1977 for my high school graduation. But I do miss that paeting! sound, because it meant you had finished another line of whatever you were typing, even if you weren't watching the progress, because, like me, you might be looking at the keyboard as you type. I also write in journals, because of so much time commuting and/or waiting on public transportation. Here's one of the oldest journals in the 2nd photo. And, just for the hell of it, the composition I wrote in second grade. I seemed to want to be a baker when I wrote this, and I must have been hopped up on penicillin at the time. I was sick a lot when I was young, and always had to carry the pills to school. I can only imagine with our Zero Tolerance Policy, I'd likely be doing hard time as a repeat offender. Hmnnn, maybe then I'd be a baker, working Cell Block D in Stateville. Behind (iso)bars, Wayne

Friday, February 2, 2007

Well, It's Not Tornadoes or Blizzards...

Sadly, this is me(IN THE SECOND PHOTO) during the daytime, back when it was last as cold as this weekend, January of 2002. But this was during the DAY. Waiting at the bus stop after work, it was dark, I was next to a sign that was basically posted on a lightpole in a guy's driveway, and there was nothing around me but six empty lanes on the I-94 feeder ramp to Indiana. When it gets this cold, my body betrays me. Anybody I have yet to meet in person this century reading this might know about the cerebral palsy on my right side, but its likely that they don't know that the circulatory system in my left hand is gone because of reconstructive surgery after I was hit by a car in March of 1989. After leaving my doctor's office. But I'll tell that story in March. I have part of my right hip in my left forearm--my family doctor, Peter Drugas, knew that it was the only way I'd still be able to type--but the various operations left my left hand my worst enemy on nights like this. I'm actually wrapping three fingers around each other to act as one strong one, still taking breaks every few words. Handwriting is even worse, because it involves the curvature of my fingers. Ironically, my grip is the strongest motion I can make; holding a SCIENCE magazine on the bus, I left indentations at the top of the pages. That's why I haven't been emailing or making blog entries, but I'm not going to keep fighting it, because the weather will continue to drop until Monday. The coldest temperatures since 1996. But as I titled this, nothing but the cold. I've survived the cold, arctic air before, and will do so again. Please, no replies about wishing me well or anything like that. On a night like tonight, I worry more over homeless people (LIKE THE GUY IN THE FIRST PHOTO) sleeping on steam vents in back of the Macy's on Wabash Avenue. I am fine, and to prove it: Tomorrow, I intend to write a blog based on the sound effect...PAETING.