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.

Upcoming Spring 2016 Events

Hey Friends, I have three (3!) upcoming live lit events in the next couple months. I hope to see you out at one or more. That would may me way happy. It’ll all be really very. (No not a hint as to what movie I’ll be talking about at Flick Lit…)

Is This a Thing Logo

Is This a Thing? – Are You There God, It’s Me..? @ O’Shaughnessy’s, Ravenswood, Chicago. Monday April 11, 2016 @ 7:00. More on Facebook and the Facebook Event Page.

I’m revisiting an old story friend for this one.

 

Essay Fiesta New

Essay Fiesta @ The Book Cellar, Lincoln Square, Chicago. Monday April 18, 2016 @ 7:00. More on the Essay Fiesta website , Facebook, and the Facebook Event Page.

My triumphant return after a six year hiatus!

 

Flick Lit Logo

Flick Lit: Reel-to-Real Storytelling for Movie Lovers – Bad Movies @ The Logan Theatre. Logan Square, Chicago. Wednesday May 11, 2016 @ 7:30. More on Facebook.

A newer show on the block I’m way excited about.

 

Happy writing, reading, listening, living, Everyone! 🙂

Riot Fest 2014 Reflections

Ramblings, Reflections, and Tiny Confessions

(Concise Music Journalism this Is Not…)

Back in MY day, music festivals TOURED, dammit. None of this all day-weekend 80 hundred bands kinda thing. I went to the first four Lollapalooza tours from 1991-1994, a period spanning high school into college. I stayed in Kalamazoo in the summer of 1995 for theatre stuff, and then didn’t Metallica headline at one point? I mean, no offense to Metallica (I dig ’em), but Metallica? Whatever. I’ve not gone back to Lolla even though it sits in my own backyard.

I would’ve last year. For The Cure of course. Alas, I was unavoidabley out of town, and that post-Lolla Monday, I sulked on my hotel bed in Stratford, Ontario while my husband and his parents went swimming. I watched the video of the entire set on my phone. I wished I’d been there, despite all the…people.

So when Riot Fest announced The Cure as a headliner, it was a no brainer that I’d go. If I missed them AGAIN for this their second summer in a row in Chicago, then I’d officially suck and have to turn in my Cure card. I bit the bullet and got a 3-day pass (thank you, honey!) as they hadn’t announced each day’s line-ups (that’s how they get ya!) and I didn’t want to stress over single-day ticket stuff. No VIP thing for me (I was tempted by the better bathrooms and lounges…) For the last September of my 30s, I thought I’d “slum it with the kids” and just deal with the mess. Didn’t imagine how messy it was going to be. But we were all in this together: the “babies” (literal babies and teen-and-20-somethings both) and the more vintage of us. And really, there was something for everyone based on age and styles. I had an awesome time, and now that my bones are like Oh, you’re not going to be standing in mud all day? and they don’t hate me so much, I get back into the groove of my week and take some time to reflect on my adventure.

Friday

The early weather forecasts for this first Riot day had called for cloudy and 72. Yeah, not so much. Ever the Boy Scout, I packed my satchel with essentials including a travel poncho, sanitizer, earplugs (!), water bottle, sunscreen (for later in the weekend…), my ticket folded into a plastic bag, and Cold-Eze to fight the cold I picked up on Monday after my dentist appointment. I was actually feeling better by the weekend, but ya know, keeping myself in check. Properly layered with my outer jacket good for any light to moderate rain. I made it to Ashland after work and took the bus down to North. Was going to take the North bus, but kept waiting and waiting and, eff it I’ll walk. I joined up with others doing to same thing and talked with Javier and Kristie (??) along the way. We parted ways at the gate. Hope they had fun.

Okay, so here we. My goal was for a 5:00 arrival, and I made it with time to spare. My first band of the weekend was The Hotelier over at the smaller Revolt Stage. Found a tree on the edges of the healthy crowd to hold off the rain that was somewhere between a mist and a light drizzle. Good opening act for me! They describe themselves as a anti-pop anarcho punk band, but they still have some catchy pop sensibilities. In the best, accessible way if I’m making sense. I preferred when the vocals were melodic and clear over when they got screamy. The inner sanctum of the crowd was way into them, and they had their fans who knew the words and communally thrashed their heads. My favorite was the dude in the pink plastic hat thing. Looking forward to listening to more of their recordings.

After a little time to peruse the spiky jewelry and t-shirts with cool stuff on them that I’d never buy or wear and getting better acquainted with the lay of the land, I was back at the Revolt Stage for From Indian Lakes. They brought a more chill Northern California vibe. A slightly cleaner sound, though I felt like the bass levels were way up in general on this stage. Listening to them as I type, and I dig how they can switch from Fleet Foxes mellow (but not as wispy if that makes sense) to punk rock heavy without missing a beat. Again, I look forward to listening to more of their stuff.

Good starting at this smaller stage. Got me acclimated to the festival, the crowds, the people watching opportunities, and I didn’t feel like the world was pressing in on my organs. That would be later. From there, I made my way to the main Riot Stage and saw my friend Anna. Cool! I helped lead her to the left side of the sound booth where her friend Trish said to meet her. The weather was getting worse–colder and rainier. But I was good. Anna not as much. Trish arrived, and we were there in time for Gogol Bordello. They obviously have a large fan base, and I know they’ve been around, but they’re new to me. A Gypsy punk band with a Ukrainian lead singer (Eugene Hütz from Everything Is Illuminated!) The music is exactly what you’d expect, and it was awesome! One song intro sounded very traditional, and I said to Anna, this is the part of the show where Ernie’s mother starts dancing a traditional Romanian peasant dance. Loved every second! So now I’m sold, and I’ll listen to them more. During the show, the rain fell harder, but Trish had an umbrella even though they were on the No-no list. Since were further back, I didn’t feel so bad. From my angle, I loved watching the Pokeman and lit-up Mario on sticks bouncing in the crowd. The girls were done and over it for the evening after GB. So as the crowd moved out, I moved up and got a pretty sweet spot for Jane’s Addiction.

The rain continued, but never so torrential that I was like I hate my life. My poncho never did make it out of my bag, though it probably should have. My layers and Makers Mark baseball cap kept me decently dry, but I asked a lot of them. Got to talking to folks waiting with me. A few of my vintage who also remembered seeing Jane’s headline the first Lollapalooza tour. Tim and Desiree. And nutty Jean from Pensacola, Florida who flew up here primarily for Jane’s. She wasn’t letting anything rain on HER parade, yo. She loved how everyone in Chicago was so nice to her and made her feel like a part of the city. Glad we’re doing our part to be hospitable.

So Jane’s: effin rad. A handful of bands were set to play an entire album in its entirety. Jane’s played all of Nothing’s Shocking from “Up the Beach” to “Pigs in Zen,” and including of course “Jane Says” (when they brought out the kettle drum), “Mountain Song,” and “Standing in the Shower…Thinking.” I hadn’t listened to it straight through in a while so I had fun listening and remembering. Perry Ferrel was crazy and cooky as ever and I loved him for it. Dave Navaro was tank- topped and rocker-hot as usual. Perry would just start monologuing about whatever, including how he could take a bubble bath on stage with all the rain water. A few times, a bass note would hit and it felt like the who city shook, like something was off with the sound booth (guess bass is a tricky wicket). Glad I had my earplugs. Looked like Dave yelled at one of the stage guys about it after the second time it happened. Perry did make his way into the crowd on my side. I was just out of reach, but I was so close. Jean freaked out, and was very explicit about the brick she shit. Ha! I grabbed a couple photos that turned out decent enough. Pretty awesome! The closed with a couple songs of Ritual de lo Habitual which is the album I got into them with, really based on my age and time of life and all that. “Been Caught Stealing,” where at the first Lolla, Perry introed the song by asking the crowd, “Do you like my pants? Well, why don’t you steal ’em?!” The closed with “Stop!” which is one of my faves. No “Classic Girl” unfortunately. In fact they stopped a few minutes early, I think cos of the rain. Looked like the fire marshall was on stage there. Perry was afraid we’d all catch pneumonia. With all that rain (among other rules…), there were of course no bonfires behind me like on the hill at Lolla where when I looked back during Jane’s, I counted at least 14 of them. Listening to Shocking as I type. I only have Ritual on cassette with the censored cover. Of all my old faves, that one never made the digital transition. Not even a CD from the South Bend library. I should fix that. Jean and I walked part of the way to the gate together. We gave each other a big wet hug before parting ways. I hope she had a fun rest of her weekend!

Getting home. Best way really was the North Ave bus to the Red Line. I waited in line to get on one of the extra long CTA buses, and managed to snag the last seat across from the back door because the couple sitting there kept smiling at folks so no one sat next to them. I didn’t even notice their moves and saw the empty seat. Getting out of the way plus getting off my muddy (!) feet were my motives. Very friendly folks. Didn’t catch their names. But the guy, a cute buzz cut Latino was jovial and conversational. He asked a number of questions including what art form I’d perform on (he named a plaza) in Madrid, and how many wash cloths I could stack on my erect penis (we got a little more in depth about the varietals involved, but I’ll spare you all that as perhaps I’ve already gotten a little TMI here, ha.) We all talked about our experience so far, comparing notes and commiserating/celebrating the rain and mud.

When my new friends got off at the Blue Line, another couple sat next to me. A New York couple where the fella was very tattooed and I think ear gauged. We got to talking, and then they asked me the best way to get back to Lincoln Park. I started to suggest they take the Red Line one stop up to Fullerton, but then I didn’t know which part of LP they needed to go. Further up to the Halsted and Diversey area. Since the Red Line station is right at Halsted, they I think asked if they could walk, and I said Yeah, that it was only a half mile up. BUT. As I rode up the train toward Fullerton, I realized I had them walking up from Fullerton and not North, which adds another mile to their walk. Ugh! I felt SO bad. Like Mortified at my dingbattedness. My brain did not reboot from the earlier part of the conversation. So yeah, I should’ve had them come with me to the train and then they could walk from there. Here I was trying to be nice and helpful and welcoming to our fair city and I totally bombed. I was like They hate me! I am cursed! If they see me the rest of the weekend they’re going to kick my ass. I knew where they were staying and even thought of calling the hotel to leave a message apologizing. But that would’ve been weird, eh? So, I Tweeted my apology along with sending it through the more traditional Through the Universe route. My Tweet was randomly re-tweeted by a couple folks with not very many followers. Not sure if they were trying to help or laughing at me. I deserve both I guess. At least my new friends who probably hate me got to pass such Chicago cultural institutions such as Steppenwolf and Kingston Mines. So there’s that. Again, SORRY! I obsessed about it some, but as I started thinking about how I’d write about it (here and through more creative means), I calmed down. The power of turning ridiculousness into art. 🙂

Saturday Wait, Sunday Always Comes to Late (Click “more” for the rest! Scroll Down for The Cure.)

Read More

Mortified in Photos

Thanks to everyone who came out to Mortified Chicago to “share the shame” with me as I presented a collection of high school poetry and song lyrics affectionately titled Angry Young Man. As I navigated through the music-inspired personas I put forth, I shared such titles as “Downhill,” “Get Off My Foot,” and “My Bleeding Soul.” I had a blast and can’t wait to to do it all over again.

Photos by my fabulous cast mate Jill Howe who shared with us her take on The Crucible by way of Alanis Morrisette.

UPDATE: Listen to the audio at Soundcloud.com!

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My inner Robert Smith and I.

Mortified 2

Giving the Censor Board a piece of my mind, yo.

My air guitar and I "sing" about a love that's gone "Downhill."

My air guitar and I “sing” about a love that’s gone “Downhill” from 8th grade.

Mom's "moody one."

Mom’s “moody one.”

That’s All She Wrote

Hey Friends! I’m helping launch a brand new Chicago live lit series called That’s All She Wrote.

I’ll be premiering a brand new story called “Blaming Richard Marx.” I know you want to find out what that’s all about.

Details:

Sunday, October 14th at 8:00 pm at Swim Cafe in the West Town/Noble Square neighborhood — 1357 W. Chicago Avenue. Food is available for purchase and the show is BYOB (Lush Wine & Spirits is just up the street!)

Line up includes Jessica Palmer, Angela Benander, Keith Ecker, and Tom Wolferman.

Can’t wait to see you there! 🙂

Radio DePaul Reading & Interview

Hey friends, it’s finally this site’s official Radio DePaul post!  On January 20, 2012, I joined hosts Colin & Marcy and my classmate Bethany for this term’s second edition of DePaul Student Writers Series.

I read two of my personal essays, Dance of the Ring and More Than Words. Following the reading, we discussed the pieces and the writing process.  Definitely a cool way to spend a wintery Friday morning.

Listen via the show’s new site Welcome post, or go directly to the site’s embedded audio.  Please Note: the first couple minutes featuring announcements got clipped, but the main event is all there.  Also, I’m second guest in the line up.

It’s been a busy quarter, and I should be studying for my Language & Style test right now.  But I still have time.  I’m also involved in a really cool project for my Art of the Interview class.  More on that to come!

Be well, and enjoy the show.  Cheers.

Warning: Reader Crossing

Originally written for Open Books’ Read All About It blog, September 13, 2011. Re-posted with permission. Support literacy in Chicago by supporting Open Books.

reader crossing

I bought this post card about 11 years ago at a bookstore in Paris (jealous?!).  Speaking no French at all–and really only surviving that leg of my trip with the help of my dear friend Erwan–I looked for things that were either in English or had no words at all.  This little piece of art work speaks many-a-word in all languages. The road itself, the urban street-scape of varying opportunities for bustle, the little indie bookstore. The red and white triangular crossing sign.  We know it.

And I am totally that guy in the street sign.  I am a street reader.  I even often dress like him–especially come this time of year. Brimmed snap hat, a blazer or flannel jacket. All that.

I moved to Chicago in 1998, away from the car culture of various Michigan cities and towns.  And I discovered this brilliant thing: Commute Reading!  A valuable resource of time in my increasingly adult world–and increasing computer staring habits.  In addition to home, Caribou Coffee, and the Golden Apple diner, I could read on the El platform, at the bus stop, in the public transport vehicle of choice.  And even, the walking portions of journeys connecting my various apartments with my office and restaurant jobs! I was totally that guy with his head down in his book, walking the side walk and cross streets, looking up occasionally from Wicked, the Lord of the Rings trilogy, I Know This Much is True, or my Joe Orton plays anthology to make sure I didn’t smack into fire hydrants, sign posts, and other non-reading pedestrians.  Once, shortly after emerging from the Grand Avenue Red Line station, a gaggle of tween girls passed me on the opposite sidewalk.  I looked up just as one snapped my photo with her disposable Kodak–the single muted flash of the throw-away Paparazzi made me wonder who she thought I was.  A reader in the wild.

wonderful.copenhagen.poster

Viggo Vagnby’s Wonderful Copenhagen (1958)

Since buying this card two years after my move, it has been a constant companion, taped up for easy inspiration in every bedroom or home office since. It evokes a world of possibility in which we readers are just as municipally protected as deer and children in our quest to get to the other side!  Where cars and pedestrians alike brake for us, where children laugh with us instead of at us.  Imagine a world where the ducks of the iconic Wonderful Copenhagen poster are replaced by a  line of readers of various shapes, sizes, and ages crossing the road with a police officer holding back a happy crowd of onlookers (and a palace guard?) cheering for them, turning the person next to them saying. “Look, they’re reading! We can do that too!  We can be that important and revered!” We don’t have to be ashamed or make excuses or feel like we’re getting in the way.

When my partner Ernie and I moved to South Bend, Indiana in 2006, we had to buy our first car together as we had returned to urban-suburban-rural car culture.  No more Commute Reading for us (we would see South Bend buses rumble down our little street but were never quite sure where they came from or where they were going.)  Even the four and a half minute walk from our house to my restaurant job wasn’t substantial enough for street reading, and I drove to the area IU campuses for class (both teaching and as a student). I felt the loss of my valuable resource right away and had to readjust my reading  habits–or else.

Back in Chicago since 2009, I found another restaurant job right away whose commute is a 15 minute tops bike ride–and barring a major blizzard, I pretty much exclusively take advantage of not having to wait for late night buses.  So my Commute Reading didn’t return to its full glory.  Now that I’m at Open Books regularly for these late summer and fall months–and now that I have class in DePaul’s Loop campus–I am once again able to enjoy my train reading.  Sure, I’ll text Ernie that I’m on my way home, or if I’m feeling a little brain dead I’ll try to beat that level of Angry Birds I just cannot get past, but more likely my time will be spent with whatever real life paper book (or classwork…) I have in the queue.  And I’ll keeping going on the walks between by day- or street-light.  And in a world where people think it’s okay to text and drive, maybe folks will give me–a fading relic slipping into the nostalgia of a golden age–safe passage.