Duncan Ceramic Products, Authorized Dealer
Yesterday, I took a detour down a stretch of Center Street, on the north side of Joliet, that I had never driven before. Standing out amid the usual hundred-plus-year-old houses, I was very pleased to discover this old storefront building. I would guess it was originally a corner tavern or grocery (the name near the roof reads "Sievert"), though it's now empty and for sale. The decal on the front door for Duncan Ceramic Products indicates its most recent incarnation was some sort of art supply store, though I can't find any confirmation of that online through an address search. Such a store seems somewhat incongruous with the surrounding working-class neighborhood, which might mean it's been empty for a very long time.
"...to be lost in something so different than the life we know..."
In "The Unexamined Life", my great friend Ben Tanzer recounts his solo trip to Italy, shortly before becoming a father for the first time.
I eventually resurface to cut through an alley I believe will lead me to Trevi Fountain. It is so dark, quiet, and not crowded, however, that I question whether the previous moments were real or just the longings of a lonely traveler.
But then there is light.
I turn a corner and before me is an explosion of bearded, muscle-bound statues astride waves of all sizes and surrounded by columns and sea monsters that spring forth from every possible direction. I have stumbled onto Trevi Fountain and it is larger than life.
I sit before it, and I try to take it all in, bathed in the streetlights and the drizzle, and lost in its sheer audacity. It's magical really, and as I sit there soaking it all up I am reminded once again of why we travel in the first place, to be lost in something so different than the life we know, as if we have entered another world completely. I feel as if I could leave Rome that night if I had to, satisfied and complete...
The essay is from Ben's latest book, the nonfiction collection Lost in Space: A Father's Journey There and Back Again. Though I just got the book on Friday and had a busy weekend, I'm already halfway through it, and really enjoying it. Some of his strongest writing yet, I think.
Congrats to my friend Christine Sneed, whose novel Little Known Facts has won the 2014 Adult Fiction award from the Society of Midland Authors. Christine has been a mentor and supporter of my writing for a long time now, and she's a vital member of the Chicago literary community. This honor is well deserved, and I heartily salute it, even though it means Wheatyard (which I entered in the competition) has fallen short. Oh, well!
The doll at the window in Janesville, Minnesota
Fading Ad: Joliet Litho-Print
I've known about this ad for a while now, but only just got around to photographing it yesterday. This is Joliet Litho-Print, on Chicago Street in downtown Joliet. In the inset photo, you can make out "Service Printers", "Pamphlets" and "Catalogs", and if you look even closer, there's a lime-colored swoosh stripe (inverted, anti-Nike) just above "Litho-Print." Based on the company's limited web presence - I couldn't even find a website - it's unclear whether or not it's still in business, so I'm glad to have finally photographed this while I still could. I've been into fading ads for about fifteen years now, and have lost far too many ads by assuming they would always be around to photograph some other day.
"The Way Business Is Done"
I am thrilled, thrilled to announce the publication of my short story "The Way Business Is Done", in the latest edition of CCLaP Journal, the arts journal of The Chicago Center for Literature and Photography. The story is one of my oldest, having been written way back in 2005 and previously racking up almost thirty rejections elsewhere, and tells the story of a corrupt Chicago alderman (based heavily on Michael "Hinky Dink" Kenna) and his ill-fated attempt to secure a transit monopoly for a local tycoon (based heavily on Charles Tyson Yerkes). However, I threw in a twist, given that Kenna worked against Yerkes during the latter's ill-fated scheme in 1899; Kenna's primary city council rival, Johnny Powers, was Yerkes' actual point man for buying up votes. I made the switch due to rich and irresistible personalities of Kenna and his First Ward cohort, Bathhouse John Coughlin.
My hearty thanks to Jason Pettus and Allegra Pusateri for taking on this story. CCLaP Journal is a beautifully designed publication that I am truly proud to be associated with. The journal is available in pdf or online at Issuu (like all CCLaP publications, a donation is politely requested for those reading the electronic versions), or in a fine paperback edition for $9.99. With all of the prose content and especially the color photography, that $9.99 price is really a bargain. I can't wait for my contributor copy to arrive.
"...she had traded the anger of what should have been..."
In Laila Lalami's Secret Son, the teenaged protagonist Youssef has just discovered that his father, whom his mother has always said had died during Youssef's infancy, is alive, well and wealthy, unlike Youssef and his mother, who live in poverty in a Casablanca slum:
Always, and especially on days like this, he thought of what could have been. If he had grown up in a normal family, with a father, would he and his mother be struggling so much? The question usually made him feel melancholy, but now that he knew his father had been alive all along, he felt angry and bitter instead. Why should he and his mother be struggling so much? Perhaps that was why his mother had lied to him all these years: she had traded the anger of what should have been and given him instead the sadness of what could have been.
I like that dichotomy between anger/should and sadness/could. I had never quite thought about it that way.
This year's Irish March reading was pretty underwhelming. First off, I forgot all about it until halfway through the month (I was absorbed in my latest Structured Reading), and by the time I started all I could cobble together was William Trevor's The Boarding-House and some of Jonathan Swift's lesser-known satirical works. Though I loved The Boarding-House, and Trevor is one of Ireland's greatest writers, the story wasn't Irish at all, instead revolving around the oh-so-English residents of a rundown London boarding house. Then it was on to Swift, but after reading the brilliant and concise A Modest Proposal, I soon learned that A Tale of a Tub wasn't a story at all, but instead a very long and abstract essay. As I struggled to read the arcane prose, my eyes glazed over repeatedly (it was nothing at all like the imaginative and often fun storytelling of Gulliver's Travels) and I knew that even if I finished the piece it would be a long and unsatisfying slog. So with March ending yesterday, I abruptly ended Irish March as well. Next year I hope to be much better prepared.
Fading Ad: People's Gas Company
Here's another fading ad, one that's hiding and seems somewhat shy. I saw this from atop the same parking garage where I photographed the A.C. McClurg ad; it's the old Peoples Gas Company building at 122 S. Michigan. The ad is on the back on the building, facing west, and is mostly obscured by the taller, modern tower at the left side of the photo. Due to its height and the closeness of that modern tower, I doubt that this ad is fully visible from anywhere other than inside the tower.
Fading Ad: A.C. McClurg & Co.
I was quite pleased to suddenly discover this fading ad during my afternoon walk last Friday. I was strolling west on Adams, approaching Wabash, and happened to glance up, above the El tracks, where I saw the ad high up on a building at 218 S. Wabash. Because of where the ad is situated (facing a narrow gap over a small four-story building, next to which was a tall parking garage) the exact spot where I happened to be at that moment is essentially the only point where the ad can be seen from the street. I rode the elevator to the top level of the garage, walked past the cars and to the edge, where I was able to take this shot.
The ad is for A.C. McClurg & Company (you can see all but the "A.C." and the "Mc"), once one of the most prominent publishers in Chicago; McClurg most notably published Edgar Rice Burroughs' Tarzan books as well as The Dial, one of the most prominent literary journals of its day. McClurg also operated a major book store which eventually morphed into the legendary Kroch's & Brentano's. In an interesting twist, this photo actually includes a second ad: in the upper left corner you can see an ad for Lyon & Healy, which I have previously documented.
Parking garages are a great place to photograph from, or just to take in unique views. Most of what we see downtown is either from street level or from high up in tall buildings. But garages provide an interesting middle ground: five to ten stories high, with the uncovered top level providing an open, panoramic view. Especially on the streets along the El tracks (Wabash, Van Buren, Wells, Lake) where redevelopment has come slower than the more marquee streets of the Loop, garages provide a rare glimpse of scruffier and (to me) more charming older buildings. And since they're open to the public, garages are easily accessible without having to navigate through security.