Welcome to Storytellers Unplugged. This is your first post. Edit or delete it, then start blogging!
Yearn For A Dream
Wayne Allen Sallee
June 28th 2009
We finally got our mid-90s here, so I’m listening to Cannonball Adderley and Charlie Parker. In the
stinking summer subways of Chicago, the best thing you can hear is someone playing a saxophone with a pile of coins inside the case on the floor. One summer I heard a guy playing “I Can See Clearly Now,” and I can still see the moment, maybe fifteen years later, stopped in time. This temperature is great for me, health-wise, though I’m still one fingered, I can type for longer stretches, and this late at night I feel less tormented, as I sweat on the keyboard. Never at peace, just less tormented. Maybe that’s why men play the sax in the bowels of the city.
I am almost finished with a novel I’ve been ghostwriting, 91K out of 94K. I am actually excited, the original manuscript was turned on its head, but the author and I have worked closely so that the book is still his own. I’m sure with all of you novelists on board here, you know that feeling, being able to sit down and immediately be in the moment, know who does what next as the last five or ten minutes of the book’s life ticks down. I could say that I know that feeling from my short fiction, but not in the same way, as I always have the last line and title written before I start something.
I write my best in the evenings, and so I’ve taken advantage of summer, not wanting it to slip away so fast. I hurt from typing, but not everything is fine motor motion. This past week, I went kayaking for eight miles on the Chicago River, with the rains causing the river to be three feet higher and loaded with dead rats. As a kid, I saw a syndicated b&w cliffhanger-type thing on Garfield Goose, “Journey To The Beginning of Time,” which ran about 60 chapters. These guys go canoeing in Lincoln Park after being at the Museum of Science and Industry here in Chicago, go under a bridge and end up in prehistoric time and there’s some really cool stop action filming. I can only remember two guys’ names, Tony and JoJo, and it was kind of a rip to find out at the end that all 60 chapters turned out to be a dream of JoJo’s after falling asleep on a bench by the T. Rex exhibit. Well, a gyp, as we said back in the day. Also went to Taste of Chicago and had lunch with a few people in the Loop, came up with street talk and story titles as I rode the el. This last mostly comes from people being on their cell phones. I always wonder why the hell people are on the phone all the time, what did they do before cell phones?
What is the deal with the current trends in publishing? Some dude got a five figure advance from HarperCollins for a book that consists of, well, funny “tweets” on Twitter. Thing is, he has an email set up for people to send him these examples, which then leads me to believe that people will just make up funny entries. Now, there are some odd things I come across, the few times I’m on Twitter nowadays, my favorite being my writer friend Maurice Broaddus writing “I can’t believe I’m up this late trying to buy a pool for my son’s frog.” Mind you, no one would get this unless they have nieces who have Webkins. But I contacted my agent about this Twitter event, and suggested he market @joymotel, the Twitter novel I wrote with John Kewley (our hook being the review in the Boston Phoenix and the fact that John and I have never met or spoken on the phone.) You look at, say, Project Gutenberg, and you have bookshelf to ubernet. The new trend seems to be the reverse. Its no longer “What happens on Twitter stays on Twitter.” Another example is HARRY POTTER SHOULD HAVE DIED, which is entirely filled with speculations that had been posted on message boards on said ubernet. So I again contacted my agent, and working with a fellow in Los Angeles, have started writing LOST’S LONG CON, which intersperses a blog about the television show LOST that has been five years running with new material consisting of the two of us doing a Siskel & Ebert routine. The pitches can’t hurt, and for once in my life I’m looking at what’s on the shelves and knowing I have the time to write something that might slip through the window before the next trend hits, presumably “anecdotes involving iPhones,” and yes, you heard it here first, folks.
I suppose that if there is a topic to be discussed here beyond my usual ramblings, it is the net-to-shelf thing going on. I suppose it is a good thing, encouraging people to go out and buy a damn book, yet there is something vaguely insidious about it. If PK Dick were alive today, he’d find a way to write a great novel about it, likely involving corporate mind-control. He would certainly have invented the word UbikNet.
I’ve been taking a mess of photos, I always used to as references, and I have a Flickr account. Always use a disposable camera. Sometimes a multiple shot, but usually I want it to be a karma-like thing. In the last issue of WIRED, Hideki Ohmori talks about disposable cameras. A lot of what he says is right on target with my general feelings towards social networking, and I do have my toes in the water, but don’t really plan on dog-paddling daily on Twitter and Typepad and LinkedIn and Plaxo. Also, though no one asked, Facebook might as well be the Chicago River, in my opinion. I get more emails from FB than I do regular mail, and when I politely reply on FB, I then find myself replying to five or six other friends who have replied to my original reply, even though no one asked. Do I sound like Andy Rooney now, or what? I’m glad I don’t have his eyebrows. Imagine Rooney’s eyebrows on Larry King’s face. Yeah, good luck getting that image out of your head now.
Anyhow, Ohmori closes his interview by saying this. “We do not always want a faithful representation of reality. Sometimes we yearn for a dream.” Hopefully my photo will post; I took the picture while the bus I was on passed 91st and Cicero.
Enjoy July, my unseen friends. Call or hug a veteran next weekend, after you watch YouTubes of what’s going on in the streets of Tehran.
I received an email from Amazon, just a few days after I had placed a few orders with them, it was a refund with the reason stated as “karma goodness.” This was the very first time I had purchased something from Amazon, I didn’t even know you had to register with them first, doh. I had made some money from my current writing job, and two back to back royalty checks allowed me to have more money than I have honestly ever had at one time. And so I used some of the dough to stock up on a few of my books that I’m down to my one reading copy, as I had sold several books when I was unemployed in 05 and 06. One of the books was my first collection, With Wounds Still Wet, and I grabbed a few copies of Getting Lost, which has a glossary I wrote for the television series, and Love In Vein, because people always want that book as it has my story involves strychnine enemas. I had to write an erotic vampire story and, yes, to me vampire eroticism=strychnine you know whats, because really, a story about a masochist who then can’t feel pain because he is turned into a vampire would make him do drastic things. And, yes, it is a love story.
So I get this refund, and her’s the dilly-o. This fellow Dave McIntosh was actually selling from his own collection, and thought it pretty strange that I was buying my own collection, so he gave me a chin nod on it. (I’ve got his address, and I’m still trying to figure out what to send him, besides the extra Shamwow I have). Well, the next day, I get an email from this other fellow about my purchase. Turns out he’s an editor and he invited me to be in an anthology centering around all the 2012 hoo-hah. So there I am thinking, ok, Amazon is, like, magic. Well, maybe more like Paul Lynde as Uncle Arthur on Bewitched. A week passed, I had more copies of The Holy Terror, and I get another email, not from Amazon, but from an independent film maker in Los Angeles by way of Louisville. A name was thrown around but I’m not saying because 1/ the whole jinx thing and 2/ I’m not even certain I know the guy. All I’ll say is, it’s not Kurt Russell. And that is a bit of a disappointment to me. I’ve always wanted to get in good with that guy.
But what about the paying it forward part, you are asking. Two weeks back, I was downtown having lunch with Greg Loudon, then walked around Millennium Park taking photos. There is this magnificent sculpture, Cloud Gate, which most everyone calls the Bean. Because they are idiots. So there I was, taking a few photos, one with a decent reflection of the new Trump Tower curving like a robot finger behind me. Next to me is a black fellow and two young girls. As I am taking the photo, the man is reflected also, and through the lens of my disposable camera, I see him fall to the ground. Just crumple. One girl says he is their cousin and has seizures, but not epilepsy. It was our first hot day here, maybe 75 degrees. The guy’s lips were chapped and his legs just started bouncing off the concrete. Another fellow, a Greek tourist I later learned, came by and we held him down. Neither with cell phones, so I was doing the old fashioned “Is there a doctor here? Call 911!” Which, of course meant that I was ignored. I held his head up, the two girls were scared totally shitless, and turned his head to the left. Blood or cherry drink spilled from his lips. And then a cop on a bicycle showed up and called an ambulance. Sadly, that’s the end of the story. I have no clue what happened to the fellow, but I think I’ll always remember the look on the two girls’ faces as they clung to each other.
I mentioned royalty checks a few paragraphs up. The two big checks I get twice a year are for, well, vampire stories. One is more a novella. But I hate vampires, though they have finally been overshadowed by zombies. Yea, there’s Twilight and Anita Blake, but Permuted Press has a half dozen zombie novels on display at Borders. I got to thinking about those Somalia pirates-actually, I’ll bet we see piracy up and down the Mississippi soon, which is fine, as long as only the bad guys get hurt-and then recalled that there is a young adult series called Vampirates, which was a name I came up with in the 90s but filed it under goofy. One of my nieces told me of a book to buy her, Bunnicula. I thought about it, then said, no, can’t be. But there it was, a hardcover collecting the first three books about, yes, a vampire bunny. Who does good, not evil. So let the vampires stay on the bookshelves, I’m getting too old to question why there aren’t a bunch of werewolf novels out there. Yea, yea, Wayne, go ahead, write one yourself. Hello, Mr. Agent, I’ll have that werewolf novel for you, an updated version of Dog Day Afternoon, sometime around 2012. What’s that you say? Oh, right. That’s the year all the doomsday books will be out. Thank you, Mayan civilization. You ask me, I think the Mayans were vampires.
You all know my father was a Chicago cop for 31 years, and many of my anecdotes or actual instances of grief come from either him or his partners. A cop sees you on the worst day of your life. I write about these people to get an understanding of why things happen they way they do, or why PEOPLE let things happen the way they do. Back in 2005, I took Amtrak out to Princeton, in Illinois’s Bible Belt, to visit Trey and LuAnn Barker, who run Green River Books. Trey is also a Bureau County sheriff’s deputy. We drove past the wind turbines that Memorial Day weekend, and he pointed out a stretch of road to me, then a bit later, a wooded area. Like most wooded areas in Illinois, it looks as if the trees are skidding to a stop before the edge of the road. A teenage girl disappeared in 1977 and her skeleton was found in that crop of trees the following spring. On the morning the girl went missing, a woman was driving on the aforementioned road and saw a purse on the side of the road. It looked as if it had fresh red nail polish on it, but she did nothing about it. It was a time of no cell phones and the farm roads in Illinois stretch for miles. Plus, this woman had an appointment with her hairdresser. On the way back she found that the purse was gone. It was then that she called the police, wanting to know if the purse had been turned in, even arguing that she had “seen it first” as the police record shows. It’s obvious that the purse belonged to the missing girl, the nail polish might have been blood, and it was the killer who came back for the purse. Rarely am I sickened by the actions of another. The people demonstrating in Oakland, mocking the death of four officers last Sunday? Watch the news here any night. Police are the devil incarnate.
Then came time to write a story for HELL IN THE HEARTLAND, an anthology by Annihilation Press, with each story set in Illinois. I wanted so bad to write a story about this woman, who still lives near Princeton. Hell, she’s only about five years older than me. But I couldn’t. I wasn’t able to think of it as I would if the same thing had occured in Chicago. It was a purse at the side of the road. Was the woman wrong for not calling the cops or even the property owner? And yet there she is, living out her days, and I can’t get her out of my head at times. I created a fictional story for the anthology, one about a man who tracks down a priest who abused him as a child. When he gets to the church in the small town, he finds that someone had already killed the priest. I define redemption in a funny way, I guess. I’m redeeming MYSELF, because I cannot speak for the victims. Homicide cops will say that they work for God, but all writers can do is remind readers that certain indignities occur. I want to write about the woman who wanted that purse in 1977, and if you want to know the truth, all of you, at times I find myself walking up to her porch and fighting the urge to kill her, just ask her, why? The hairdresser appointment was more important? Seriously? But then, as in my story about the priest (who reflects any of a dozen child rapists in the Chicago Archdiocese), I see myself walking up to purse lady’s porch…and I find that someone else has already killed her, out of outrage or simply a petty, small town argument.
I’m in the process of working on a book project for someone that, for the most part, takes place over the course of several hours. The meat of the book is sandwiched as a flashback between the expected setup as well as the eventual hint at a sequel. To help center the book, I put the middle part in lock down mode, quite literally, as the characters can not leave the building they have trespassed upon, and in doing so I succeeded in dilating time as well as space. Certain scenes allowed for a choreography, one I likened to the football games where a first down gets replayed in slow motion and a yellow marker draws arrows and circles amongst the players. I am enjoying how this plays out.
There is a character from the 1940s, he was actually created less than two years after Superman, named Hourman. Rex “Tick-Tock” Tyler, the Man of the Hour, worked for Bannerman Chemicals and developed the Miraclo pill, which gave him strength and stamina for an hour. And also made him comic’s first functioning drug addict. What made his eight-page adventures so enjoyable was that, after he popped a pill and started swinging his fists at thugs, a small countdown would appear in every other panel, reminding us of Hourman’s limit. 47:03. 24:00. Hourman usually beat the last armed robber with about seven seconds left on his internal clock. I often (well, you know) think of myself as Hourman, because of my pain medication. I can type pretty fast right now, but come see me around 2 AM. So, again I digress, but I really got a kick from that countdown.
The same can be said of the book I am working on, though it’s a bit more claustrophobic. Part of me wishes there was a way the book could be condensed into a twenty-four hour format, if only to have it fall into the category of “novels that take place in one day,” one of Wikipedia’s vague headings.
I’m currently reading Duane Swierczynski’s THE BLONDE. Duane’s the editor-in-chief of the Philadelphia Daily Paper and novel has a great premise (as does his current novel, SEVERANCE PACKAGE, check him out), and aside from a two page epilogue, the thriller does take place over the course of a day, each new scene giving us the time and location. The book moves along, certainly from the strength of Swierczynski’s writing, but the mention of the time in bold print works much better than starting the next chapter with “Three minutes later…” This guy has been doing some comic of late, maybe I should tell him about Hourman, if he doesn’t already know.
Most of my short fiction work by the “first 48″ rule of police procedural, you gotta try your damnedest to solve the murder in two days or all bets are off. I wrote a novella about a plague, FOR YOU, THE LIVING, of which I’m thinking of turning into a novel (since zombies seem to be cooler than romantic vampires now), and that little love story covers about three months. For any of you reading this, I’m curious. What is the shortest amount of time that has transpired in any of your meaty pieces (not flash fiction or the tiny nibbles like I have in several anthologies)? Anyone?
TO SEE IF I STILL FEEL
Years ago, I starved myself one day just so I could write about it in my commonplace book, this was when I thought it important to experience something instead of guessing or taking someone else’s word for it. I’d make notes of whatever random words or metaphors came to mind as I hungered. Mind you, I share my father’s metabolism; we both bleed long and fast, and we burn through calories like nobody’s business. I’ll eat three to five times a day and I’ve never stayed above 155 lbs. for long, and I do feel (my own patented) physical pain faster if I do not eat. I’d often have a milk shake to ease the spasms in my back, maybe the same way people grab a smoke, so on that long ago late Saturday afternoon, I made my notes, I took some photos of my immediate surroundings for story referencing, then spent fifteen dollars at Gold Coast Dogs under the Wabash el tracks. My metabolism pretty much plays a big part in how fucked up I am when it comes to the spasms I get this time of year, my body eating up calories in double time when Chicago spends three days without topping the zero mark in temperature.
Present day now, and, yea, I’m listening to Johnny Cash, and, yea, his cover of Trent Reznor’s “Hurt.” In the last eight days we have gone from sub-zero temps to thunderstorms and the expected flooding as a foot of frozen snow sank into the erff and into my crawlspace, still there because its still raining as I type this, still nearly 60 degrees. Yesterday morning on Twitter, I was kidding the local gang that the only thing we are missing this week is a volcano erupting on the Tri-State Tollway.
It wasn’t that long ago I lived in Chicago, taking the elevated train into and back from the Loop each weekday. You live in a routine, you get to recognize sights and smells on an almost subliminal basis; anyone from out of town need only assume the subway entrances smell of sweat and sewage even during the harshest months, but there are sweeter smells from factories and warehouses that share the same blocks with tenement apartments.
At Ashland Avenue, the train stops just across the river from the Holsum bread factory, and when the doors slide open on a summer morning, it’s like a blowsy woman wearing just the right amount of perfume sashayed down the aisle. Further west where the blue line bisects the Eisenhower, the Pan Candy factory makes it’s presence known. Southwest, where the streets hump the train yards near Marquette Park, there’s the Nabisco cookie factory and the old joint where they still make Tootsie Rolls. It’s this last place where I’m reminded of the smell of death.
Walking from the train to my home, the smell from the confectionery smokestacks is intoxicatingly sweet, and I think of Pixie Stix, a brand name candy from my youth, long paper tubes of powdered sugar in pastel colors offerings of lime and cherry. In the early eighties, when I would be walking the same route home after college, immersed in espionage novels or wondering if I had it in me to write stories instead of poetry, Jack Malvides became the man who murdered Halloween.
At least, that was his nickname to the television audiences; every since “Killer Clown” John Wayne Gacy was arrested, catch-name killers were big in Chicago. Jack Malvides killed his seven year-old son in a heinous way, poked a hole in his boy’s Halloween stash and slipped some cyanide in. Difficult? No way, as the still unknown deviate who killed seven people with tainted Tylenol capsules, or the investigating cops and coroners, could attest to.
The cyanide was powder, just like the Pixie Stix. I think the candy company also made little candy buttons you could peel off of butcher paper. Malvides banked on an insurance scam against the makers of the product but that plan went bust mostly because he acted too shifty, or shiftless, depending on who was making the comparisons between grieving father and that of cunning murderer. So the police eventually wore him down, but the boy was still dead, along with the stigma of the one day a kid can get free goodies from neighborly strangers (or strange neighbors) and yet die choking on lime green vomit.
I hadn’t even been thinking about writing horror fiction at that time, if anything I was being deluded by the grand scale confusion Robert Ludlum and Frederick Forsythe created in each new conspiracy. I would not write “A Field Near Grayslake” or “Rapid Transit” until the following spring. A part of me believes the death of Bobby Malvides allowed me to slowly desensitize my prose, which I did all that winter, culminating with my poem about spring for my senior year workshop, about a dog romping through a field with part of a woman’s skull in his jaws.
And as I said, there is an intensity to certain smells just as there is deja vu to a recurring image. I can smell copper in my sleep, to wake from some dream of an imagined fiend, with blood in my nostrils and my jaw numb from clenching. Twenty years later and everybody is desensitized by life itself. Every other day there’s some kid shooting up a school or random bombings by some idiot with an agenda.
I can still visualize what Pixie Stix felt like , the paper tearing away, the bitter powder on my tongue. Most times, it is the scents from the Tootsie Roll factory that provides the catalyst. But as the years pass, I find it increasingly hard to recall a Halloween afternoon filled with children not under adult supervision or in single groups of one or two, dumping piles of candy together one a living room floor and dividing the spoils.
Hey, everyone. I’ve been sitting here for twenty minutes trying to think of a title and gave up. I went to my list of unused story titles. Because at the very least the title needs to be catchy. I’m notorious for needing a title and the last line of a story in my head before I can go on and write the damn thing. This is the case with my Richard Matheson-esque story “The Night of The Two Moons.” Yes, I received another email last week reminding me–wrongly–about Mars being closest to the earth tonight, which started as an email back in 2003. Its a decent story yet I can’t end it with the right turn of the phrase. Its what I get for trying to emulate Matheson. Look for it before the turn of the decade. Along with my H.P. Lovecraft redneck story “The Sumbitch Horror.”
I turn 49 next week, which means I’m dangerously close to outliving Rod Serling. I’ve outlived David Janssen, The Fugitive himself, and Elvis. An aside here, just because its damn weird, there’s this thing you can look up on Wikipedia, “The WOW! Signal.” The only type of possible radio transmissions were recorded overnight at an observatory in Ohio. The guy who checked the printout in the morning saw the 72 seconds of activity–the length of the telescope arc– wrote WOW! and circled it. The date: August 16th, 1977. The day Elvis died. I postulate that he simply went home. My friend Harry Fassl put it quite succinctly, the radio waves were the sounds of a dinner bell. I never once thought about the fact that I’ll be 50 on 09/09/09. That’s the day that the new version of PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACE will hit theaters. One of Beth Massie’s old cronies, Lee Snavely, and I are planning a ridiculous YouTube called PLAN 9 FROM MySPACE. We’ll film it both here in Chicago and at Lee’s secret lab in Richmond, have one of the cops be a computer repairman instead, pretty much riff on the entire film. I think the flying saucers will be old Microsoft Word CDs. I may get my nieces’ corgi to be Bela Lugosi. We’ll see. (Lee and I were responsible for the FISHNETS FOR VIGODA “meme” in the hopes that we could get the phrase high up on the Googleometer,and we at least got it to New Zealand).
Yes, you read that correctly. I can make YouTubes now, I’m no longer on dial-up. I have Comcast, and the night after it was hooked up, I was relacing a light bulb in my closet, the bulb broke and I couldn’t help but touch the filament. Trying to balance myself, I then put my right hand on an old hard drive on my shelf. But I then was able to kick away the stool I was on and fall to the floor, the remainder of the bulb shattered and I lost all power for the next 40 hours. So, yes, I have high speed, when I’m not busy blowing up things. I’ll tell you, though, one of these days an accident will give me those super powers I’ve been wanting. Just what the world needs: Half-Century Man, the oldest hero alive.
So its the end of summer and I have no lessons to tell anyone, other than how NOT to change a light bulb, so I hope you’ll just let me ramble on like Laird Creiger in HANGOVER SQUARE, only its not a piano playing in the background, rather Sandy Nelson hitting the tubs in LET THERE BE DRUMS. I’ve been out looking for work again, and last week in the Loop I ran into Rockabilly Dave. Quite a few homeless people sell STREETWISE, and they keep half of every dollar issue they sell. Dave usually stands at the corner of Monroe and Clark, he has that early 60s look, the sideburns and thinning floptop, but his eyes are sunken and he is always pale. But back in the days I worked downtown, I’d spend half my lunch hour jawing with him about Sandy Nelson, Link Wray, Dave Brubeck, obscure bands like The Hondells and the Del-Rays, and all kinds of cool stuff. I’m at my best, writing and thinking creatively, when I’m on the train or writing in my commonplace book by the water filtration plant, Lake Michigan on three sides of me. I’m not the same me when I walk through the front door, maybe because I’m in the suburbs and the big, bad city is behind me and to the east. Dave will be MIA for days at a time because he gets day labor. He’s not into drink. I think he and I share the fact that we want the street running through our veins, the dankness of the subway tunnels clearing our sinuses (mine, at least). I applaud him for not expecting a handout by sitting in front of a boarded up storefront with a White Castle cup saying ‘gimme change’ every three seconds like an off-key bell in a church tower. Here’s to Dave for being happy, while I’m here trying to tie this up into something that will fit with the title I’ve posted.
Hrmm. Nope, I got nothing. I’ll keep going for the 1000 words if I can. I ACTUALLY am working on one of those stories-that-might-be-a-novella called “Into His Own Hands,” and deals with a few loose ends someone needs to take care of before he leaves town for a new job. So this weekend I’ll be spending the night at these fleabag called the Diplomat, which would pretty much be listed under Crack Houses in the city guide. Wire netting for ceilings, chairs with one arm, that’s all you need for shooting up. Razor blade marks on the top of the television. I know this because a friend from Canada stayed there one night in 2000 but I need to see it for myself. And its only four blocks from Wrigley Field. So if I go “into the erff” per street cop terminology, someone reading this can give a heads up, but I wouldn’t wait for any reward money to be posted. Whoever finds my body can finish the story, how’s that? Take the pen out of my cold, dead hands.
I’m sure more than a few of you have seen THE DARK KNIGHT by now. I haven’t, but then when have I ever kept up with current events? (Catch me later tonight (the 27th) as I watch LIVE FREE OR DIE HARD on Starz. But don’t spoil it for me, I don’t want to know if McClane gets the bad guy at the end). I’m always surprised by the amount of people that don’t seem to know that both new Batman films had all the exterior shots filmed in Chicago. The Board of Trade is Wayne Enterprises. Heath Ledger is walking down a rain-slicked LaSalle Street in the poster, with the eerily blue-lit midnight el train six blocks north. People gather for hours at night just to catch a glimpse of a Bat-double leaping from a fire escape to a rooftop. I’m not saying that people from South Carolina or Michigan’s Upper Peninsula would have reason to know the city by sight, as one might know Manhattan simply by seeing Times Square, but the Chicago filming is mentioned in just about every magazine article.
One of the reasons Chicago was chosen was for our great catacombs, the Lower Wacker Drive. If you’ve seen THE BLUES BROTHERS, you know the Drive. There’s an East, West, North, and South upper and lower Wacker. Back in the 80s, the city’s sole homicide by bow and arrow occurred when a homeless man was killed while huddled by a steam vent in winter. I believe the man’s ghost still inhabits the area around that steam vent, the sub-basement of a building that houses the prestigious Wrigley Club. The city can tear down the failed factories and build hotels and high-rises, but the shadows beneath the bright lights remain rigid and unmoving.
Not that far south there are more ghosts. And the city scape above will soon change, as construction of new town homes bleed into every available space on old railroad property and crappy river front territory, the latter soon to have some mess called Bridgeport Village at a bend in the South Branch of the Chicago River, now a weeded area, the sign for Levee Street long rusted away. The South Levee District was where all of our brothels were a century ago. And not that far away, the Union Stockyards.
Sully often waxes philosophically with a view of sky blue waters, but our water is pea-green but for on St. Patrick’s Day, when a portion of it is turned a garish, radioactive kind of green. I get some of my inspiration from the South Branch, specifically where it runs beneath the Ashland Avenue Bridge, I-55, and the Orange Line elevated platform. Its called Bubbly Creek, because the methane from still decomposing carcasses from the stockyards bubble up in random blips like you see after a bottle of 7-Up has been poured into a clear glass. In the coldest winter we can have, this past one was the eighth coldest on record, Bubbly Creek never freezes over. It is mesmerizing.
I’m not one who enjoys writing at my desk, except late at night when there are the hushed sounds of traffic outside. I carry my commonplace book around with me and jot random lines down on a whim. I’ll write sections of a story while I watch the guy from the meth clinic fighting the old heroin junkie over a red milk crate in front of the Old Navy. A few weeks back, I took one of my jaunts, this time with my camera in my backpack. Rich the Nebula-winner (on my blog, everyone has gang member names, because, well, you don’t really see anyone else doing that, right?) had grown up in that neighborhood and reminded me of the Stearns Quarry around 29th and Poplar. Several of my stories involve Archer Avenue, the long diagonal which follows I-55, et al, and over the years I had actually forgotten that we had a gigantically deep yet somewhat small quarry right off Archer. Well, Not From Michigan Mike told me that the quarry was fenced in awhile back after a mugging or a murder–hey, did any of you hear that the governor has offered to send the National Guard up here to help against gang crime? Yep. It will keep our minds off the gas prices, at any rate–but I figured a quest is a quest. And no, I could not see the quarry, but I figured I’d keep wandering, take more photos, maybe come up with a new tale. One of how the Brighton Park neighborhood–one you could see in the film BACKDRAFT as the fire engine raced past the long-gone Archer Avenue Big Store and the doomed St. Bridget’s–the area I knew, was still there in pieces, some storefronts closed, others changed hands, very few turned into metallic monstrosities like the buildings up north. I even applied for a job at Windy City Silk Screening and bought a Pope t-shirt with the Polish flag on it for two dollars. Then I walked towards Bubbly Creek.
Archer Avenue rises over Ashland and so you can get a great view of the rippling waters near the top, and there’s a stairwell that will take you to street level, but separated from the waters by a fence. I interrupted a man on crutches urinating against a pillar without meaning to. The waters do not smell foul, certainly no worse than car exhaust. I stood there watching the waters, the el train beating above me towards the Loop, thinking of skeletal cows doing pavanes in the green opaque that would one day be waterfront property for vacuous town home owners. I will one day write a story of a ‘haint that has a ghastly mooing sound and a mournful cow bell that will announce its arrival.
After I’m gone, I hope to be a ghost here, walking the streets, watching the addicts fight over begging rights, most of all sitting on the Ashland bridge, watching the dancing ghosts below 32nd Street, the overhead traffic oblivious in their fervor to get to their destinations.
Wayne Allen Sallee
That’s what I call my writing resume these days, the collections of newspaper interviews and my appearance in Chicago magazine, sadly when I still had hair and wore my Larry King glasses. More on that in a minute. Or maybe not, considering my lack of concentration lately, due to my brain popping rods of pain on a regular basis. Never could get the voice activation to work, I get too many spasms in my right cheek. At some point I might swipe a story title from Ray Russell, start calling myself Mr. Saldonicus. At times, I can see how writers decide to take that dirt nap, what I calling Doing It The HemingWay. Ha ha. But I’m sticking around. As my good friend H.E. Fassl wrote me once, we have to stick this out until our expiration dates.
Got laid off a day before working two years at the plant. Worked out in a good way, because there had been quite a few layoffs since January, and I recently talked with someone there who told me everyone got an eight hour per week cut and salaried workers had a 20% annual pay cut. But, since the temp agency I was hired through is still giving IDES the usual hoo-ha, I’ve yet to get benefits after four weeks. Hence, my grasping at job straws. You lose track of days of the week when you do different things on different days and a specific routine is lost. I feel fragmented. I don’t want to start selling my books to get money to eat again. The past two days I’ve worked at Taste of Chicago, the gigs over, but at least it was worth a few bucks and an enormous sunburn. Email me and I’ll send you a photo of me looking like The Hideous Sun Demon (a really bad Guilty Pleasure film of mine). I’m burnt enough that I can’t put on my pain ointment and you really should see me now, Heath Ledger has nothing on my paingrin, ladies and gents. Oh, I am insane, indeed I am. But I move on because of Janet and her recent accomplishment and the people on the streets that move like Ray Harryhausen stick figures, climbing onto the bus sideways, or the guy I saw in the Loop yesterday wearing a sign that read I’m Just Hungry. Land of the free. Again, to Janet, my admiration and prayers, for what they are worth.
So on to talking about writing. I’ve looked into a few web content jobs through Remilon, Guru, and Elance, passed on to me from Jeff Johnston and Jesus Gonzalez, respectively. Yea, I can see my doing this on deadline, that image of Hemingway with the shotgun in his mouth ever clear in my mind. Four days before he committed suicide, he wrote a thank you letter to an eleven year old. Will I have written about the benefits of enrolling at the University of Sante Fe or maybe emailing Brian or Sully, or sending a wacky postcard to Dave? My empire of dirt, baby. And when people talk about it–IT, I mean–that means they are really in it for the long haul. I’ll end up eyes and a brainstem in a jar in some carnival, which quite honestly is how I feel some days anyways.
Earlier this week I was part of a focus study group on lip balm, and was paid $100.00 for one hour of picking my brain. One of the last questions involved my being asked what I would do if I woke up one morning in a world without lip balm. Honest. I could think of dozens of things that were higher on my list than boo-hooing the demise of lip balm, like working, using two hands independently, living above poverty level, having health insurance, running into Kurt Russell (who I’ve admitted on my own blog to having a man crush on, no secrets in my life) and grabbing a few bottles of ABC root beer. And writing long term, not in fragments. I love putting these words down for SU, I rarely comment on other posts because my self-esteem went south so long ago that I feel my words–even in casual conversation, mean absolutely nothing (my empire of dirt). I’m an old man in a dry month, as T.S. Eliot wrote in THE WASTELAND. One of Beth’s cronies, the Rev. Snavely, sent a few people a link to the remake of PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACE. It opens 09/09/09. The day I become Half-Century Man. I really never thought I’d make it this far. And at least I’m putting down words every day, with the determination of an ant balancing a piece of Honey Nut Cheerios on my stoop earlier as I read an old Green Lantern comic from the 60s. One finger going numb, an hour into typing my babbling missive, my shout-out to all the SU readers, from Chicago to Tasmania and New Zealand.
I have written no fiction in the last few months. I have handwritten pages that end up in my blue recycling can outside, some I take to the bus stop and let them blow in the wind, maybe inspire someone else who finds a random page. For years, I have kept in my wallet a folded piece of paper I found on the el, words printed in pencil on a small memo sheet with a R in a circle at the top. I think of it as my constant, something reminding me to always, always write. The words on the page, I am sad. Do you know anymore information about Eddie Curry WAS died last Monday 3:00 morning. Someone mourning, leaving a note to someone, anyone, just to express emotion and continue on living.
Writing this has uplifted me quite a bit. Its like religion for me, and I am always grateful for those who take the time to read my fragmented blurtings (is that a new word, never know with me?). So that’s my confession for this month, that I have written nothing I feel is worthy, yet I have not stopped writing. I’m insane now, and if I stopped writing, well, what lies beyond insanity? A normal life, like my neighbor sitting outside drinking a beer, content after a hard day’s work (and one hell of a great guy), not having to fret about words in his head that want so desperately to be put on paper? When I sit outside with that ant reading the Green Lantern comic, I’m twittering, facial-ticing, about going back inside, climbing the stairs to Welcome To The 12 Monkeys House. Always thinking, hardly typing. For now. Thanks, everyone. Until next month, I remain your chattel, Wayne Allen Sallee, dangerously close to Chicago, and fifty-three minutes at the keyboard. Loving every minute of it because it means my brain is still active.