Thursday, March 27, 2008

The Weight

Work's been hell, it keeps snowing to the point that I believe that Krakatoa has exploded and the NSA has been hiding it from us, and I've been busy writing this comic for a publisher in New Delhi (more in a later post). So I'll again post my March entry to Storytellers Unplugged. Some of it I have mentioned here, but overall, I enjoyed writing the piece....Wayne

Wayne Allen Sallee

I keep wondering each time the 28th of the month rolls around exactly when I’ll be typing my piece without snow on the ground. Well, OK, its mostly hail today. The hard snow that eventually bounces into Indiana, once its banged off my huge, middle-aged nose a few times. It is spring here, there are maybe two days in a row that one can feel it, not the temperature, but the sound of early morning birds and evening gulls in the parking lots. It’s the gulls and mournful they sound that bring up moments in the past, a gull with a broken wing I saw on a grey Good Friday who seemed resigned at his eventual doom. And from that I can recall most of that entire evening and weekend. Charles Gramlich, a writer displaced from New Orleans by Katrina and FEMA, hipped me to the term “iceberg memories.” Just as my dreams are incredibly detailed, in fact, the gulls and grey skies are repeaters along with the expected el trains and buses.

Music is probably the biggest instigator for iceberg memories that I may or may not choose to use in a story. This past Monday, I was up north for the book launch of HELL IN THE HEARTLAND, an anthology of stories set in Illinois, and Mike Martinez gave me a CD mix. Mind you, I still have an 8-track that could tape blank 8-tracks, and a cassette player with mixes from the early 90s. When one cassette broke, Charles’ wife Lana fixed it. While I had tried to fix it myself–imagine Jerry Lewis as a brain surgeon–I played my DEATHPROOF CD and kept Jack Nietzche’s “The Last Race” on repeat. Louder each time. Of course, when I got the cassette back, I realized I had Rick Dees’ “Disco Duck” on side two, right before “King Tut.” The only iceberg memory from that is the fact that I drank a lot in 1994 and assumedly had way too much time on my hands. Now, Mike had basically offered to burn some songs by The Ides of March and add a few other songs of his choosing. And what’s incredible about the mix is that most songs really do bring back memories for me. In a big way, images that I have put in my stories and used as springboards for other pieces.

Before I go on with a partial list, I ask if the same goes for those reading. I know music plays a large part of a writer’s life. I enjoy typing to Glenn Gray’s Cosa Loma Orchestra from the 1920s or Eartha Kitt’s song from the 50s. All I need to get back in my brain is the horns or Kitt’s voice and the crack of the ice in my glass of water. My Frankenstein’s laboratory is certainly different than most would expect. But, the memories this mix brings back, some spot on with stories I’ve written, songs I’ve mentioned.

Soft Cell’s “Tainted Love” was first, and it brought me back to Rogers Park, where I lived with three artists. I had a manual typewriter, a stack of SASE’s, and it seemed like I never stopped typing as my roommates listened to new wave. A song I wish was on the CD is Nena’s “99 Luftballoons,” if only so I could get the lyrics of “99 Words For Boobs” out of my head. Its on YouTube, and the damn phrase I keep mumbling at the bus stop is “comfy pillows and Don DiLillos.” “Lake Shore Drive” by Aliotta Haynes and Jeremiah is THE Chicago song. I first heard the song in the early 80s, and when I lived north in Rogers Park, well, everyone was on LSD “Friday night trouble bound” one way or another. I have several stories set in Denver, and two characters in a record shop vie for the 45 RPM, one giving it up so he could get Robert Mitchum’s “Calypso, Is Like So...” instead. George Pelecanos tends to put references to a ton of music in his crime novels, characters will drive through have of Washington DC arguing about which band had the best cover of some Marvin Gaye song. Pelecanos is much richer than I am in musical knowledge. Well, he’s much richer than I am, period.

“The Weight,” by The Band. I was starving in Bellair, Illinois, pop. 54 in the summer of 1983. There’s a long story to how I ended up in this town, living in a yellow house with no windows and writing for a farm supplement that went into the Casey Daily Reporter. I could never cash my checks because, well, you know, I was a hippy from up thar by Chicagah. The guy who got this writing thing in motion split with some chippee half his age about three weeks into it; there were eight writers who starved. Mark Rainey published my long poem “A Rural Truth As Ugly” in DEATHREALM, the first of many mentions of this experience. In other stories, I basically kill the same man only giving him different names, the bastard who left me calling for my father to pick me up because I had only eaten one pack of Saltines in three days. I still had cuts on my fingers from when me and Bob McCoppin stole a can of Mighty Dog from a back porch and almost cried when we realized we had no can opener. We used pens and then tried to scoop the stuff out, slicing ourselves as little as possible. The stuff tasted like cookie dough served in Hell. But Bob had a cassette of The Band’s Greatest Hits, and we sang the words to “The Weight” as loud as we could, shoving this crap down our throats, blood from our fingers making us look like Heath Ledger’s Joker.

The Ides of March. Their work is hard to come by, though you can hear “Vehicle” on most 70s stations. “I’m a friendly stranger in a black sedan...” That one, and “L. A. Goodbye” really send me back. The latter song has been playing on jukeboxes in several stories, and in THE HOLY TERROR. The band is long gone, but Jim Steronik lives in nearby Berwyn, looks twenty years younger than me, and has written about 80 songs for other singers that have made the Billboard 100. Virtually my whole life in the decade before my first writing was published in a saddle-stitched book out of Detroit called BEATNIKS FROM SPACE, all on one CD. There are other songs I could mention, but this essay seems one-sided. I hope some of you will imagine me and the Mighty Dog when hearing “The Weight” again. Do any of you put certain songs in your works on a conscious level? If I drift away enough, the closing guitar riff on “L.A. Goodbye” fades into the sounds of the gulls I hear every night as I walk home. As always, thanks for reading...Wayne

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Don't Pay The Ferryman

For those reading the previous post and learning about my first death for their first time, I've included some photos of my arm over various periods of 1989. I wore casts for 291 days, but at times got to air my skin out. All of my diary entries, as they might be called, are in DarkTales' TRUE TALES OF THE SCARLET SPONGE. The Sponge could either be my gauze around my arm in the early days or the contusions to my brain which still haunt me with my nosebleeds. I'm not showing the photos of me after laser surgery was done to remove two of the clots in 1993. And so this part of my tale keeps me forever in a time loop, March 18th 1989 to now to March 18th 1989 as if the first time machine was created on March 18th 1989 and therefore I could not go back further in time, to my previous life, because the barrier was the day the time machine was built. I guess I should pay the ferryman after all, because I did get to the other side. God help me...Wayne

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

On March 18th, I Am My Own Constant

Everyone knows of the accident, 19 years ago this morning. Same kind of weather, rain with melting ice on the ground. Every March 18th, I reflect on how I've changed from that Saturday. I have more pains from being older, but I'm in better shape than when I saw the 55th Street Cubetia upside down at five feet in the air (a memory etched in my mind like a tear in my brain tissue). I feel as if I'm left behind by faster typists, but I was able to keep up with things in the days of Galaxie Twelves and dot matrix printers. Laying on the ground with the bashed leg, the trashed bones, the bloodied head. I learned to use my right hand for the first time in my life--look how fat that still-broken left hand looked, straight from Bobek's sausage factory!--and now my one right finger can still hit the shift key. When I was standing in front of Sid's tavern, I was wearing everything I had on the following Saturday. The bones tore through the turtleneck, a hooded sweatshirt, and the padded suede jacket in the other photo. Another setback, nine operations and part of my right hip in my left arm, a hollow spot Dennis Etchison once called "deadspace" in a story, and I'm left typing with one finger, my thumb in the air. Like I'm typing with a flesh pistol. So if I need a Constant, something to keep me grounded (or at least something to keep me from taking a dirt nap), I think of myself on March 18th 1989 and then on every March 18th afterwards. Exxon Valdez. Iditerod dog races. Hurricane Hugo hit during my fifth operation. Most days, I'm good. But I never NEVER think about Friday, March 17th, 1989, or any day before that. The days that I was still alive.....Wayne

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

A Rural Truth As Ugly

Mark Rainey and I made a trade of a few books and on my end it involved some early DEATHREALMS, back when it was digest-sized. I was particularly happy to see my poem with the title in the subject heading above, as I had only had a manual typewriter at the time I mailed it to Mark. Brings back memories, not good ones, certainly interesting anecdotes. I was in a town called Bellair in downstate Crawford County for three months in the summer of 1983. It involved a writer project aimed bringing attention to the town's general store, Bellair having three roads and a population of 54. There's a lot of pent up emotion in that poem, one of the longer poems from my pre-publication days. I was angry with how some of the townspeople treated us "hippies" from Chicago. There is a huge history to this story, but at one point I had to call home because the teacher who started the project had driven off with one of the twenty year old girls, and the Trailways bus depot in Effingham was at least 50 miles away. I called for a ride because I had lived off of a single pack of Saltines for the last three days I was there, sharing a yellow house with now windows with a flea-infested dog named Bobo. Several of the others involved in the project had cars, but were up at the U of I in Champaign for some kind of event. One of those guys, Bob McCoppin, about a week earlier, was as starved as I was. Things were not as they were promised, such as a refrigerator with food in it. In the dark of a moonless night, we went to a family's home because we knew the they had a dog and kept dog food outside. We stole a can of cold Mighty Dog and rushed back to the aforementioned yellow house. Then realized we had no can opener. We spent an hour using pens and cutting our fingertips getting that lid open just enough that we could scoop out the beige meat. I was actually getting paid for this gig, I wrote articles about the store and other events for the Casey Daily Reporter. I had $350.00 in checks. But no bank, currency exchange, or person in town (or neighboring Robinson, where the Heath candy bar family fortune is high up on a hill like that other Wayne Manor) would trade any check for cash or food, because we were hippies. I felt like I looked like Bob Seger instead of a younger looking Donald Sutherland in INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS. But I was eating cold dog food that had been stolen. I'm still proud of that poem...Wayne

Monday, March 10, 2008

Homicide: Life On The Killing Streets

I have seen dead people. My father's first partner became a homicide detective on the north side. In the mid 70s, he stopped by for a visit and I was able to see b&w photos of some stuff that sears the mind. An off-duty cop shot dead ion his car. The Grimes sisters on Willow Springs Road, a crime still unsolved. A ground view level view of a woman who jumped from the 86th floor of the John Hancock Building, her leg dangling from a lamppost like pantyhose. And Judith Mae Anderson's remains, severed limbs and torso in a drum that floated out on Montrose Harbor on a summer's night in 1958. Barry Cook was arrested for that one, he was paroled in 1973, went to Houston and fell off the earth. He did a lot of bad things before he killed Anderson, and I wrote a novel centered around him called BROTHERHOOD OF THE DISFIGURED that my second agent never marketed in any true sense. Being the crazed fool I am, I eventually tore the pages into shreds. I bring the photos and the images up, because, even after seeing the b&w blood and faces deflated of life, I still can hear--more a faraway echo now--the dying woman's voice from Saturday's mock jury. Perhaps its an echo that implores me to not let the voice go, to stay in my mind with the images of the killing streets I saw back in the mid 70s, splayed out on my kitchen table...Wayne

Sunday, March 9, 2008

4 Minutes, 22 Seconds

Yesterday I was paid $250.00 by a focus group to be part of a mock jury. As I filled out a checklist beforehand regarding my familiarity with certain companies or law firms, I sensed what trial would be covered. Back in October of 2003, a fire broke out at 5 PM on a Friday. We listened to the prosecuting attorney (in abbreviated form) and the defense attorneys. We watched videos and we listened to 911 tapes. Six people died and twenty-two injured, all from smoke inhalation. The entire "event," including our "deliberation," took eight hours.

I have written about the Our Lady of Angels fire in 1958, the fireman Richard Scheidt in the photo lives only blocks away in Oak Lawn. I've read transcripts of calls made from the World Trade Center and seen images of falling bodies from both fires, the kids at the Catholic school jumping from the second floor. I've read transcipts of the phone calls from United 93, and of the people on the left aisle of Flight 175 talking to their families, and as the plane tilted enough they could see their target was the South Tower. But never were those calls heard in their entirety, only described, from FoxNews to Wikipedia. Much of the OLA fire was written up in LOOK magazine. More quotes, made distant by time.

Yesterday I listened to a 911 call made by a woman whose name I will always remember. She called from her cell phone while on the 12th floor of the burning building. The 911 call taker tried to keep her talking, keep her conscious. The call lasted for four minutes and twenty-two seconds. We heard the voices and saw the transcript via PowerPoint and a court reporter. The woman talked and prayed, her voice getting weaker. I always hate the phrase "fell unconscious" as if it is a conscious thing to do, or whatever I'm trying to say. This woman lost consciousness after almost four and a half minutes that the twelve of us listened to. And then she died. The fire started at 5:00, the first ladder truck arrived at 5:03. The woman's body, and five others, were found at 6:50 PM. I've heard that woman's voice for over twenty-four hours now.........Wayne

Friday, March 7, 2008

87th Street Breakdown

Here is a time lapse of the destruction of the widow Debo's house. For the better part of six months, while I was working 4-midnight at the plant, staying up until 3 writing or watching some Bobby the Mitch film, the workers would start exactly at 7 each morning. The top is a photo of my house circa 2000, still the same size. Well, that's it for now, its back around 6 degrees, my leg wound is throbbing, and I have be up at 5AM to do a mock jury focus group at 8:30 in River North....Wayne

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Everyone Said We Had A Screamin' Ball...Last Night At Dracula's Hall

The above is a song from the broken cassette Lana repaired, much to my giddiness. I wasn't even able to find out the name of the band who recorded the catchy tune. The gigantic house in the photo was built next door to me over the past 16 months, and I call it Castle Frankenstein, but obviously I've overused The Monster's formal name too often of late. So, Dracula's Hall it is. The closest house in the second photo is the old house, and mine is to the right and could easily fit in the garages of the new castle. The people who will eventually move in have Bobak Sausage money, so they can pretty much build whatever they want. The house torn down had been there since 1946, when much of Burbank was farmland. Fun fact: Burbank was simply South Stickney Township until 1970. I have photos of the other place--the widow Debo's house--that I need to get in order, because I have some cool demolition photos. Much like I've been demolishing my body lately, I do like to take photos of things leaving the face of this earth. The last photo is just guesswork on my part on how the next accident I have will change my appearance yet again....Wayne

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Fire...Bad! Gut...Worse!!!

I saw my doctor about the leg wound, because it was swelling and I was a bit delirious from lack of sleep. While there I got this strange printout after I stood on a scale, which I thought was for taking my weight. (I suppose I should have been curious when I was asked to put on goggles with orange circles at the edges, but crazy wacky sleep-deprived pain will make one overlook such details.) But if I had know that I looked like, well, you can see IT, a middle-aged man with a gut the size of Iowa--the portion between MacGregor and Lansing on any Atlas will do--well, damn it all. I surely could have posed better. And what the hell's with the Wayne as Terminator shots? My job covered the bill, so at least I can laugh about something other than the bill for stepping on the scale. As if the still shot of the gut isn't enough, I also have a CD so I can make my Frankenstein gut photo into a damn screen saver...Wayne

Monday, March 3, 2008

Forget 99 Tears, I've Got My 39th Scar

My long underwear made the blood coagulate. And make my shin look fat. Really, I'm svelte. I've been told that Kurt Russell mentioned this in an interview in TIGER BEAT FOR ADULTS. See, I was walkin' here (as Ratso Rizzo might say in MIDNIGHT RIDER) when I slipped on ice across from work and, as only I can, I slipped in Parker Pipe-Fitting's lot but then landed on a concrete block covered with snow in Berkel Midwest's lot. It hurt like hell, but I was busy all day, plus it hurts my arm and back more typing this even though the leg is swelling now. I took this wonderful stuff from work, we have this heavenly medicine cabinet, called PAIN FREE, 50% ibuprofen, 50% caffeine. Plus Pizza Rolls. It wasn't until I saw blood seeping into my jeans about an hour before my shift ended that I knew something was up. Well, there goes my shot at being the sex scene double in SWITCH HITTIN' SUMMER, as they obviously would do close-ups of my svelte yet muscular shins. Ah, well. I've been doing pretty good, though, its been three years without a scar. I'll have to make a list one day. The first one was in 1973, but everything went batshit by the car accident on March 18th 1989. Look forward to wonderfully depressing posts in two weeks, sound like a plan?...Well, time to contemplate chewing on some glass...