An Official Farewell to Chicago

It’s been a little over seven months since I said “Farewell” to Chicago and hit the road for new adventures in Nashville. Seven months since it snowed in March for the movers after seventy degree days in February. Since sitting in my car with my Dunkin’ Donuts coffee and breakfast sandwich after my final packing/cleaning/walk-through/put our condo keys and parking lot gate opener on the counter/taking my time shutting the front door and looking wistfully like the final episode of a beloved sitcom. All with minutes to spare before the new residents received their keys and had their first walk-through before closing. I had no interested in accidentally meeting them.

Since basically my final shot of Chicago was, while filling Bud’s gas tank at the BP on Broadway and Irving Park, I see Honey West sauntering cautiously across the lot with her poofy pink winter jacket and big-gulp sized drink. Taking me back to a pivotal Chicago moment that first Monday after 9/11 out of our apartments and ourselves, and my dear friend MK (before he was “MK”) and I hit the Boystown bars and we ended up at Gentry and ordered one more drink we probably didn’t need and Honey sang the WWI classic “Over There” and I completely effing LOST it. Yeah.

Seven months of moving into a new house and trying to not rely on my phone too much to get around (I miss the Chicago grid!) and making my way into a new literary community and job searching and all that goes into relocating. And I finally have my new site ready, and I’ve been brewing this “Farewell” post in my head for a while. Because I kind of feel like I just “ghosted” out of town. Between Ernie’s moving down early to start his new job at Nashville Children’s Theatre that’s brought us here in the first place and the packing of life and work and all that, there just wasn’t a whole lot of time to see everyone and visit everywhere and get too sentimental. Even though I did find time to walk by all my apartments, including walking the ally to visit my West Barry coach house place. It would’ve been cool to have a big going away bash somewhere, inviting (most) everyone we ever knew in Chicago. But it just didn’t work out. We left once before, but not as far. South Bend, Indiana was close enough to keep our dentist. This time, not so much. This is it.

So, farewell to mine and my college mate Sarah’s first apartment (1998-99) down the road from Wrigley, a “garden apartment” with its cat pee soaked carpet and rat problem. To (re)discovering Boystown and to all the boys and friends I knew and loved and crushed on and all that, numbers written on Roscoe’s business cards with golf pencils that I maybe still have tucked in an old phone book somewhere (okay, I know where). To being single via landlines and answering machines and payphones, oh my.

A Thank you to all my peeps at Chicago Dramatists and the Living Room Project and NewTown Writers for all your inspiration and opportunity. To the Chicago Live Lit Community and all the writers I’ve shared a mic with or listened to from the audience–and to all the audiences who took ten minutes here and there to listen and maybe say a kind word after. You are all amazing!

To my DePaul University MAWP classmates and professors. You seriously rock! Thank you for getting me to the place as a writer I am today. Thank you also (and especially?) to the DePaul Writers Guild! I miss “stretching my tuition dollars” every Thursday (etc.) and am honestly still feeling a little lost without you. I know you still have my back.

I miss you, big fat Lake I could walk to or ride my bike along, stare into, get a sense of direction from. A particularly sweltering spell this past August, all I wanted was to be with you. The Cumberland River doesn’t quite cut it in comparison. I miss more daily biking and walking in general, late night rides down Clark Street from Andersonville, cutting across Sunnyside and its funny pedestrian-only way. Feeling badass riding Milwaukee Avenue home from Wicker Park.

I get my Chicago Instagram fixes primarily through @Chicagotod and @Chicagomotives. Thanks, guys!

I read my copy of Rust Belt Chicago: An Anthology from a distance, much of it sitting on our back porch overlooking our sometimes overgrown backyard, early mornings, coffee, birds and bugs chirping, a train whistle in the distance, light (and sometimes not) city noises. Far away from our condo’s arm-span sized balcony that served as our outdoor space (for which I was grateful!) overlooking Sheridan Road from where my young nephew once shouted excitedly, “TWO AIRPLANES!” as he kept watch of our O’Hare flight path. I love the collection and am proud to be a part of it. But it made me miss the city: a Chicago I could directly connect with, sure, but also a Chicago just before my time there in neighborhoods that I only visited but never lived. And a Chicago that was not my version of Chicago. It kind of drove home that life in Chicago for me is now truly in the past. 20 years ago I was saving my dollars (literally–as a waiter!) to get myself there. But things end and it’s all a part of myself, ourselves.

As is Unabridged Bookstore and Joys Noodles and Melrose Diner (RIP) and the Golden Apple and all the coffee shops I wrote parts of my soul in (Dollop, “Cariboy,” and more) and the stages at the old Bailiwick and the Strawdog cabaret (also RIP) and all the theatres I went to with Ernie and before I knew him. And that moment when each night Charlie’s transitioned from cowboy bar to late night dance club. And walking quickly to Halsted without a coat in winter because who wants to deal with coat check? And both the romance and torture of all the CTA train lines. And the entertainment of the Broadway bus. And restaurant jobs and temp jobs. And the Art Institute on my birthday. And driving back into the city at night, the skyline lights welcoming us home. And, and, and more things I’ll think of and remember after I finish typing this.

I could think about things I won’t miss or places I never made it to. But maybe some other time for all that. I want to keep the glow nice and warm as the weather is finally (finally!) properly autumnal down here in Tennessee. Just in time.

“An Ernie Yes or No” @ The Everyday Gay

Currently living in the six hours between my dad heading back home to Michigan and going to work.  In post-SOLO HOMO 9 mode, but also must get things together for more visitors and Pride.  Thanks to all who came out to the show this week–you rock!  Hope you had a good time.

So my Solo Homo 9 piece, An Ernie Yes or No, was recently published by my writerly pal Byron and the rest of the fabulous folks over at The Everyday Gay.  The publication happened a bit “fast” even if the piece has been in the works for a few years now.  Byron and I had been emailing about contributing–and then I noticed EG was doing a Father’s Day week celebration, so I struck.  Byron loved it, and wrote a touching introduction, which I am so thankful for.

The piece covers my evolving attitude about the possibility of being a Dad, incorporating family history, pop culture, my relationship with Ernie, and various other introspection.  Read it by CLICKING HERE.

The piece started in winter 2008 as a class assignment in my friend Kelcey’s Creative Non-Fiction class at  IUSB, where I did a year of graduate work. Over the last three years, I’ve been working at it here and there, and by the time this year’s Solo Homo came about, I knew I wanted to use the opportunity to finish it.  I think  of all the pieces I’ve done, this was the easiest to memorize, because so much of it, especially the final thoughts, have been bubbling in my brain for so long, that I’ve known it for a while.

In thinking about my family, it’s actually a comfort to realize that all parents have their doubts, fears, and demons to deal with when it comes to being parents.  Our parents are people too!  Who knew?  In the 24-hour period before my dad came to visit and see the show, I had a bit of panic and a case of writer’s remorse.  This piece gets raw and real–about my family and myself–moreso than any work.  And it freaked me out a bit.  Especially with my dad hearing it.  But Dad is well aware of his personal goings-through in being a young parent, and talking about it definitely calmed me down.  We’re good. 🙂

As per one of my final thoughts in the piece, about attempting to help raise any child of mine to not be an asshole, my Strawdog Theatre friend, Hank (who also bar tended Monday night)  pointed me to this article from Details Magazine: Are You Raising a Douchebag? It’s funny at first, but also gets real.  It’s no fluff piece.  While no kid of mine will ride around in a $2000 stroller, one of the more accessible things that the article touches on is the parenting trend of over protecting.  One of my mantras these days is Kids are so coddled!  Let them live and discover and take risks.  Falling off a bike will make them stronger.  As I approach 40, I hear myself saying “Back in my day….” more than I’d perhaps like….  The article cites a forthcoming book called Let them Run With Scissors…. which I’ll have to pick up “if we get there.”  I also like some of the user comments following the piece (a rare thing these days of so much general negativity in comments sections everywhere).  One in particular is by a mom of 19-year-old twins who was a single mom since the boys were 3.  Go her!

I hope you enjoy the essay.  Feel free to leave non-douchebag comments here and/or at the EG site. 🙂

Happy Pride!

UPDATE: October 2011 ~ Follow my new blog project, Memoirs of a Guncle: adventures in gay unclehood, to follow up on the themes (and more!) touched on in this essay. Cheers!

UPDATE: October 2017 – The EG site is now down. I’ve also taken down the Memoirs site but am looking to re-post entries here.

Solo Homo 9: June 20 & 21, 2011!

I’ve Facebooked and Tweeted and done all sorts of PR.  Well, here’s the official WordPress post!  Check out my latest show with NewTown Writers, the 9th installment of Solo Homo. I’ll be debuting a new pieced called An Ernie Yes or No.

For more info, visit Newtownwriters.org

To RSVP at the Facebook Event Page, go HERE.

To snatch up online tickets, visit Brown Paper Tickets. (Or pay cash @ the door!)

We can’t wait to see you there.  Cheers!

Come See Me Get MORTIFIED!

First off, a HUGE thank you to This Much Is True for asking me to be a part of last night’s show.  Awesome time and a cool company of writers to be in.  You all should go check them out even if I’m not in the line up. 🙂


Up NEXT, I’ll be sharing some, um, oh-so-innocent high school journal entries as part of MORTIFIED Friday night, March 18, 2011 @ 7:30.  At the Beat Kitchen, 2100 W. Belmont, Chicago. 21+.  Order advanced tix by clicking HERE.  RSVP at the Facebook page HERE.  Doors open at 7.

I know some of the others in the line up and am looking forward to meeting the rest.  Should be a blast!  Putting together my stuff has been fun and cringe worthy for sure.  See you there!

My “This Much Is True” Debut & Other Updates

Hello Friends! March is here.  Isn’t that awesome?  Treated yesterday, the 1st, as a sort of mini New Year’s re-boot.  Feeling good, though I still need to make that massage appointment.

I’d like to first add another thank you to Story Lab Chicago for an amazing night back in January!  I’m still basking in the afterglow of that packed, standing room only night at the Black Rock.  I debuted a new piece, More Than Words, which combined best friends, Mom, and rock star dreams all in one.  Cheers to the cast and the audience!

Story Lab’s mother ship, This Much Is True recently invited me to be a part of their summer line up, but as things go with producing sometimes, they needed help this month.  So I’ll be making my TMIT debut Tuesday March 8, 2011 at 7:30 at the Hopleaf Bar, 5148 N. Clark St. Chicago. And it’s free and they have good beer there.  I’d love to see you there!  I have a pretty good idea of what I’ll be doing that evening….

~ Mortified: The following week, on Friday night, March 18, I’ll be sharing select high school journals with Mortified Chicago at the Beat Kitchen.  Not sure what this is all about?  Click HERE. And get your tickets HERE.  Should be a brilliant time!!

~ Twitter: Yes, I finally got sucked into Twitter.  For businessy writerly things.  For the most part.  Follow me @mvankerckhove.  The feed also appears on this here site. Groovy.

~ YouTube: And while I’m at building my web domination, I’ve also launched a YouTube channel.  Eventually, performance clips may be added.  But until then, you can check out the rapid fire photo videos I made at Pummelvision.com. This one is from an unfinished “365” Flickr project from late 2008-early 2009, living in South Bend.

~ NewTown Writers: Solo Homo 9 is in the works…. Stay tuned!  Also, check out the call for submissions to the next Off the Rocks!

Thanks for checking everything out.  Much more in my brain I hope to be able to share down the road….

Cheers!

Smith Mag Love

Last week, I found out by flipping through my Facebook home page, that one of my Six Word Memoirs was chosen as the Memoir of the Day by the fine folks at Smith Mag.  So I thought I’d archive the love (screen shots from the Smith Mag site, which you should totally visit.  Click them to enlarge!). Funny thing is, I posted this almost two years ago!  So things WILL catch someone’s eye eventually.  Put the work out there and be patient. 🙂

As for the memoir itself, this has always been my inner response whenever I’d hear the now culturally entrenched “You’re a poet and didn’t know it!” phrase.  While my actual poetry writing days are behind me, I’d like to think I’ve carried on the poetic torch into my playwriting and prose.

THEN, I discovered this round-up page just the other day.  This is pretty awesome too.  I’ve won a handful of things in my life, but being named  “Most Poetically Meta” is one I’m particularly proud of.

So, Thank you, Smith Mag!

By the way, Next up for me: I’ll be a featured reader at next month’s Story Club on November 4.  ‘Twill be way cool!

Double Whammy Public Radio Loss

I’m saddened today by two Public Radio deaths.  First, I learned about Dick Buckley, a recently retired Chicago Public Radio jazz DJ.  His voice, humor, and music got me through my earliest Chicago weekends as my roommate, Sarah, was turning me into an NPR addict.  He also gave me an even greater appreciation of classic jazz.

THEN, I learned of Daniel Schorr.  To me, he was a comforting grandfather who was on my side and made everything seem okay, even if what he was commenting on wasn’t really okay.

Both men gave a lot of people comfort, I think.  They and their voices will be missed.

NewTown Writers Presents: Solo Homo 8

Hey Everyone!  Join me and NewTown Writers for the 8th installment of our FABULOUS performance series, Solo Homo.  I’ll be debuting a brand new piece, Dance of the Ring.  Visiting Newtownwriters.org will give you a bunch more info as well as a link to the fabulous Brown Paper Tickets for online ticket purchasing.  One of my favorite things about BPT?  They generate a press release using all the info you give them about your event.  How cool is that?!  Anyway.

If you’re on Facebook, visit the Official Facebook Event Page and RSVP!  Thanks, ‘preciate it, and see you there! 🙂

Going Nowhere Fast

Saturday morning, despite the snow blowing sideways on our first day of spring (which this found photo does not reflect), I thought I’d go on a little adventure to nowhere fast….

Chicago writer and WBEZ rock star, Amy Krouse Rosenthal, has a new blog: MISSion AMY K.R. I met Amy 5 years ago when she did a signing of her book Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life at Quimby’s, but I didn’t expect her to remember me or anything.  She’s cool.  I started reading her blog earlier this year when it launched.  Amy’s blog invites us to go on various missions and report back, such as Loose Change The World.

I will now publicly admit my lapsed following of the blog.  But thanks to an announcement Friday afternoon on Chicago Public Radio, I learned about the latest mission: Go Nowhere Fast…Together. Spring out of bed on the first day of Spring and meet at the Belmont El station at 9:45 AM.  We bring our coffee, she’ll bring the donuts.  We’ll ride the Brown Line together, down to the Loop and back.  We’ll eat our donuts, we’ll be together.  We’ll do…other things?  Cool.  Sounded like a fun thing to do–a little random, a little artsy, a little silly, enlightening, philosophical, brilliant.  The kind of thing I’d do in high school or college and people might be like What?  It’s slam dancing with my friends to Nine Inch Nails at the school dance where everyone else just stared at us in a time when “alternative” still meant something.  The kind of thing that goes beyond cool and gives our worlds a little shake.  Otherwise, my Saturday morning with Ernie out of town would’ve consisted of my waking up eventually, making coffee (which I did, and travel cupped), probably pancakes, and living in my head till work.  Not there’s anything wrong with that.  But sometimes a little assertiveness and bubble bursting goes a long way.

I walked into the new shiny Belmont station, a station whose full grandeur I’m now just discovering.  It’s no longer the dumpy CTA station of my first arrival to the city 12 years ago.  While I was away for three years, and in the past year back where I’m closer to the Addison station one stop north, they sure made it pretty!  Walked in with “regular” passengers and another guy who was like, Is this the group?  Yeah.  I recognized Amy and gravitated that way to learn the next phase of the mission.  Amy’s producer, Justin, carried the boxes of Duncan Donuts, presumably from the DD down the street at Clark, one of my very first encounters with Chicago in 1994 when back then it was nicknamed “Punkin’ Donuts” (though maybe it still is…?) and there was no Starbucks in sight. (I notice these days I automatically spell “sight” s-i-t-e then have to correct myself.  Also, “seen” as s-c-e-n-e.   How about you?)

We paid our fares and gathered on the other side of the turnstiles.

Since Amy doesn’t like name tags (we learned), she passed out Post-It notes and pencils.  Cool idea, but I was nervous about the not-always-reliable Post-It sticking to a snow-soaked fuzzy winter coat.  Some folks had more resources to work with such as safety pins and jacket strings and zippers.  I was traveling light and had to throw caution to the adhesive.  Brushed off the melted snow as best as I could and stuck my square note with “Michael” and a Smiley Face to my coat.  It worked for a while, but it fell off a couple times on the train while balancing–my donut, my coffee, myself.  Not that my address and social security number were on it or anything, but I was a little creeped out about having it lying around a CTA train car.  So into my pocket it went after a while.

My traveling companion, Dooney, used the safety pin that fastened the size tag inside his hat.  He’s like I know what size my hat is: the size of my head!  So, “Dooney” what’s that all about?  A nickname he acquired in college as folks said his profile makes him look like a Doonesbury comic.

Time to head up the stairs to the platform, someone behind us commented she felt like cattle.  I hear that, but it was this well balanced blend of both active participation and being lead.  We moved far down to the left where the front car was presumably to stop.  The idea was always to gather in the front car.  Alas, we were slightly thwarted when the train stopped short of where many of us stood.  But we all made it on in one piece.  There was a smattering of riders already there, but there was room for all of us.  Some sat, but most of us stood.

Dooney, myself, and a handful of others, including producer Justin’s little one and his friend, gathered at the very end of the car, just behind the operator’s–let’s call it a cubby.  The cockpit?  Sure. 🙂 On the far end of the crowd (maybe 50 people??), I noticed Steve Edwards and Tony Sarabia and swooned just a little in nerdy-gay-public-radio-fanboy-ness.

Donuts were passed.  First, the box of Munchkins made the rounds.  Chocolate please!  Then Justin passed the big boxes.  I’d requested Boston Creme on the blog (as had many), so snatched one up.  Yum!  Thankfully, Justin also had napkins.  With all the jostling of the train, things were bound to get sticky.  At one point I thought we were getting kicked out as we’d definitely broken the No Eating aboard CTA trains rule.  But whatever, people do it all the time. But perhaps not in such an organized fashion.  The operator stepped off the train for a few.  Slightly nervous, but we carried on our adventure.

Amy’s perch was one of the side facing benches to talk to us.  She thanked us for coming and posed this question to us: So, Where Do You Go From Here?  Could be literal: I’m going home to take a nap, etc.  Or a little more figurative and philosophical, In Life and all that.  Well, the literal thing I’d thought was to go take that nap before work.  The Life thing was to re-emphasize my battle plan to curb my Writerly A.D.D. and focus on something for longer stretches of time. (I realize in writing this, I’m not focusing on the current focused project, but , well, it’s important and I am master of my fate and all that.)  Justin went around with his camera and asked us to share our answers.  We’ll see if Dooney and I make the video cut.

The riders who were already on the train at Belmont and those we picked up along the way had mixed reactions.  From ignoring us, to positive curiosity and participation (one rider we picked up who got off downtown answered Amy’s question for Justin’s camera) all the way to definite grumpiness.  Dooney was like Some of these folks are not happy and I was like Well, that’s their problem that their souls and lives are lacking in joy and excitement and all that.  Not direct quotes, but that’s basically what I was saying.  Those grumpy people were not embracing this experience that we, Amy, and the fates had bestowed onto them.  And that’s a little sad.  But I can understand that grumpiness too.  At 35, I can slip into “grumpy old man” status.  Just ask my husband. 😛  But one guy who came on, probably in his 50’s, we offered him a donut and he was like Well, I’m a Chicago Public Radio member, so I think I will have one!  An unexpected Thank You gift. Tastes better than a tote bag.

Amy’s pal, Nick, brought his ukulele, and we had a sing-along.  First, we sang the Beatles’ “I Wanna Hold Your Hand.”  And by “we” I mean that I sort of hummed and sort of vocalized a few words all while tapping my foot and singing in full glory in silence inside my head.  Singing in public (and by public, I mean in front of anyone, anywhere, is not my thing, unless I’m cast in a musical where I’m basically glorified stage dressing anyway) is not really my thing.  I’m a wicked mouther, though.  Just like I play all the instruments in my air band.  Anyway.  Then, one of the guys Dooney and I were hanging out with (whose name I’m blanking on) requested George Michael’s “Faith.”  He helped Nick with the chords and off we went.  Pretty awesome.  I helped with the “Baby!”  Guess I’m more George Michael than George Harrison.

As our trip drew to a close, we passed around sticks of chalk to write something somewhere, something we know won’t stay there forever.  I took a piece, broke it in half, and gave my other half to Justin’s little boy–who started to draw on the window with it.  Cute!  I still have my chalk in my coat pocket, but haven’t written my message yet.  Thought I’d wait till at least the snow melted.  I’ve spent most of my time at work since out adventure (even working a shift between writing all this.)  But I will use my chalk.  Promise.

The train windows were fogged up most of the trip, so I couldn’t always tell where exactly we were.  The announcements helped, but we were all focused on each other.  The togetherness was the main attraction.  When we hit Fullerton on the way back, I momentarily forgot that the Brown Line stops a couple times before Belmont.  I’ve been more of a Red Line kind of guy during my tenure here.  I panicked for a moment that our trip was ending too suddenly.  I like some sort of closure to things.  It’s why it takes me forever to leave a party.

There were goodbyes on the Belmont platform before people scattered.  I told Amy that I read a little bit of her Encyclopedia the night before to get ready for our mission.  She looked a little weirded out.  Just a little.  I realize I can come off as odd sometimes, but I promise I’m not crazy. 🙂

Before getting off the train, I asked Dooney what he had going on after all this and to see if he wanted to grab a bite.  Our fellow travelers dispersed and walked down the stairs in much less herd of cattle fashion.  Dooney and I went over to Clarke’s. Breakfast beyond donuts sounded really good.  And more coffee.  Not that I needed it, but I definitely wanted it.  At one point on the train, I saw one of the girls near us, Jennifer, she’d stuck her Post-It note on her travel coffee cup.  Why didn’t I think of that?!  So I dug mine out of my pocket and stuck it there–and there it stayed for a while with a little help from strategically placed fingers.  At one point, sitting in our booth at Clarke’s, I noticed my name tag was gone, fallen somewhere on the street.  This didn’t bother me as much.  My name and a smiley face are out there for someone to find.  Since I haven’t chalked my message yet, that will have to do for now.

Dooney and I had cool snowy-day-in-a-diner conversation sharing stories and life.  We’re both theatre types and it makes sense we have at least a few Facebook friends in common.  We’ve both been to Australia.  This week’s Mission is to post thoughts on the trip.  Which all this is.  Amy asked a few prompts, including, Did you make a new friend.  I’d say Yes.  So, Yay.  Everything starts somewhere.

None of the snapshots I took are really any good, so I found this Brown Line map that somewhat shows Where We Went, though it doesn’t really do the journey justice.  There are some visual aids over at Amy’s blog.  As to Where I Go From Here on this Tuesday morning, finally finishing this, it looks to be a day of little accomplishments (this!).  Maybe some big ones too.  Break-throughs can happen when you’re not really thinking about it.