“...the splendor of the square window...”

Francesca Falk Miller, from her 1948 novel The Sands: The Story of Chicago's Front Yard:

Her own room was at the top of the house facing the street. It was the nursery during her babyhood, but had later become a schoolroom with the tiny alcove over the stairs for her bed. Tom had the hall bedroom at her back, and there was a dark bathroom between, where often Sulie would see the shine of a roach as it scurried to a hiding place under the tin tub. There was no window to this bathroom, but a square skylight showed blue sky and white clouds on clear days, and the stars on dark nights. Sulie who was never afraid of the dark, hated to light the wall-lamp and so shut off the splendor of the square window on the heavens above the tin tub and the roaches.

“Chicago’s Front Yard” is a misnomer, as the Sands (a desolate, nearly lawless stretch of squatter-inhabited lakefront during the mid-19th Century, long before beach property became fashionable) would have been better described as either Chicago’s back alley or its dumping ground. 

November 20, 2017 in Books, Chicago Observations | Permalink | Comments (0)

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“Prettiness is only clothes I am a truer lover than that. I love it naked. There is beauty to me even in its ugliness … for its vices are often nobler than its virtues, and nearly always closer to a revelation.” - Eugene O’Neill

November 19, 2017 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

"...a mask for himself..."

"He had declined to stay in Norwood and live out his life as Pee Wee Gould, the town fool. If he had to play the fool, he would do it on a larger stage, before a friendlier audience. He had come to Greenwich Village and had found a mask for himself, and he had put it on and kept it on. The Eccentric Author of a Great, Mysterious, Unpublished Book - that was his mask. And, hiding behind it, he had created a character a good deal more complicated, it seemed to me, than most of the characters created by the novelists and playwrights of his time." - Joseph Mitchell, Joe Gould's Secret

November 17, 2017 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

“...the farther away you get from the literary traffic...”

Nelson Algren, interviewed in 1955 for The Paris Review by Alston Anderson and Terry Southern:

Interviewers: Do you have a feeling of camaraderie, or solidarity, with any contemporary writers? 

Algren: No, I couldn't say so. I don't know many writers. 

Interviewers: How do you avoid it? 

Algren: Well, I dunno, but I do have the feeling that other writers can't help you with writing. I've gone to writers' conferences and writers' sessions and writers' clinics, and the more I see of them, the more I'm sure it's the wrong direction. It isn't the place where you learn to write. I've always felt strong that a writer shouldn't be engaged with other writers, or with people who make books, or even with people who read them. I think the farther away you get from the literary traffic, the closer you are to sources. I mean, a writer doesn't really live, he observes.

November 11, 2017 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

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"We live in a clownish time. We live in a clownish world. When you have a guy like Reagan, who may be the funniest guy in the world except for the fact that people take him seriously, how can anybody be serious unless he clowns as well? Very much like Lear's fool who can say the truth in his own way, Nelson is the clown who deep deep down is very serious in his comments about our world, and his reflections about our time. He teaches us about failures, and it's the failures that turn out to be more exciting than the successes. He's the funniest man around and can therefore be the most serious."
- Studs Terkel, in his 1985 afterword to Nelson Algren's The Neon Wilderness

November 10, 2017 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

“...nothin’ but blind baggage on a silk manifest...”

We heard the freight whistlin' just then and the fellas began to pick theirselves up - all exceptin' Fort. Ford has made up his mind he ain't goin' to hop nothin' but blind baggage on a silk manifest, and I couldn't convince him that there weren't no manifest due on the Soup line before November anyhow, and even that one would be goin' the other way. But all he would say was I will wait here till November then and if it is going the other way I will go the other way too. There isn't any reasoning with Luther when he is in that frame of mind, so I took two of the cans of Sterno and eighteen cents he still had in his watch pocket, and dragged him over to the side out of the way of the brakeman.

- Nelson Algren, "So Help Me" (from The Neon Wilderness)

November 10, 2017 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

“...only half a mile out in the woods, which were mined.”

He had turned me in once, at Camp Twenty Grand, when I was cooking up K-rations in my tent instead of remaining on duty guarding the officers' latrine in the rain. The enlisted men had developed an outrageous habit there of using it, instead of their own, during the night; although their own was a perfectly good one only half a mile out in the woods, which were mined. I'd wanted to even up on Witzel for the week of detail he'd gotten me that time, so I grabbed the rifle and shoved it under my coat, intending to drop it down the first convenient sump, but Chief had an even better idea.

- Nelson Algren, "The Heroes" (from The Neon Wilderness)

November 9, 2017 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

“...they would play the juke just to keep her from hearing.”

And strange walkers, out-of-step shufflers to nowhere, passed and repassed on the pavement below; beneath her bed she heard the muted laughter of the men she had known in the past months since Christy had left. All like the men the Widow had lived on: they laughed and stood closely together and nodded significantly toward the staircase leading to her room, and she knew even now they were talking about her.

She had seen them saunter to the bar in pairs and speak there in whispers, that she might not hear what they were saying about her: they would play the juke just to keep her from hearing. They were afraid to speak up because they knew in their hearts it was all lies, a lot of big lies. She would pretend to be unaware of them; but she knew, she knew all the time. Mary knew.

- Nelson Algren, "Design For Departure" (from The Neon Wilderness)

November 8, 2017 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

“...he knew every shadowed corner of North Clark Street...”

He had no need of any other, having sixty-five dollars. The delightful, varying ways he could distribute this sum, in all the devious city ways, crowded his mind. There was no room, in his anticipation, for anything but the city's changeful colors and the fastest means of spending sixty-five fish.

He had no friend, though he had lived in the city all his life. Yet he knew every shadowed corner of North Clark Street, every poolroom with darkened windows and a fake padlock on the door. All the curtained parlors and the right way to ring: one long and two short and ask for Marie.

- Nelson Algren, "Katz" (from The Neon Wilderness)

November 7, 2017 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

“...the kids pointed on me.”

He gave the detail trouble before he was twelve, when he was hauled out of a stolen truck he had crashed into a parked Pontiac on Mother Cabrini Street. He was wearing a pair of women's high-heeled pumps, no stockings, and a pair of overalls that fitted him like an awning. If it hadn't been for the pumps, he assured the detail, they'd never have gotten him: he couldn't run in them. And admitted, when pressed, that he's picked the pumps out of a Goose Island dump and stolen the overalls. That he had quit school "because the kids pointed on me." His small chin jutted, warning the officers that they'd better not point either; while his hair, which was red, hung angrily before his eyes.

- Nelson Algren, "No Man's Laughter" (from The Neon Wilderness)

November 6, 2017 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)