"No orange flashes in the sky."

East Chicago: a blue-collar suburb, thirty miles or so south of the big city. It is—was—the archetype of Steel Town, U.S.A. Most of its breadwinners worked in the mills: Youngstown, Inland, U.S. Steel.
    On this rainy afternoon, the journey on the IC train offers a bleak landscape, as other industrial suburbs are whizzed by. Smokeless chimneys. No orange flashes in the sky. Empty parking lots. Not a Ford nor a Chevy to be seen near the deserted plants. An occasional abandoned jalopy, evoking an image of the thirties. A stray dog, no humans. A fleeting glimpse of the business end of the towns; enough to see boarded-up stores and empty Main Streets.
    A mind-flash of Willard Van Dyke's 1938 documentary, Valley Town. It was Lancaster, Pennsylvania, a steel city of the Great Depression, stone-cold dead. It is a moment of deja vu in reverse.
    The front lawn of every other bungalow in East Chicago, it seems, has the sign: FOR SALE.

- Studs Terkel, from The Great Divide: Second Thoughts on the American Dream (1988).

July 22, 2017 in Books, Chicago Observations | Permalink | Comments (0)

"...the endlessly renewable power of repetition, hypnosis, and frenzy..."

Peter Margasak writes a fine tribute to one of my favorite bands, the Feelies, who played here recently at the Pitchfork Festival. 

July 19, 2017 in Music | Permalink | Comments (0)

"...like thin old wine-skins overfilled..."

H.G. Wells, on religious converts:

Disgust of the narrow life, of all baseness, took shape in narrowness and baseness. The quickened soul ended the night a hypocrite; prophets disputed for precedence; seductions, it is altogether indisputable, were frequent among penitents! and Ananias went home converted and returned with a falsified gift. And it was almost universal that the converted should be impatient and immoderate, scornful of reason and a choice of expedients, opposed to balance, skill, and knowledge. Incontinently full of grace, like thin old wine-skins overfilled, they felt they must burst if once they came into contact with hard fact and sane direction.

True, this is from a novel (In the Days of the Comet), but this isn’t simply a narrator talking, independent of the author. This book is full of so many rants and diatribes that this passage can’t be construed as anything but Wells using his narrator as a megaphone.

July 18, 2017 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

Damage Control

I love this concept: a satirical comic book series about a corporation that rebuilds New York City every time a superhero battle destroys it.

Superheroes are — or at least try hard to be — good for ordinary human beings. But they can be bad for infrastructure: their fights can level, undermine, or otherwise bust up buildings, roads and tunnels, and most heroes don’t have the wherewithal to make repairs.

I've never been a comic book guy (a certainly not a Comic Book Guy) but I think I would really enjoy this.

July 13, 2017 in Books | Permalink | Comments (4)



I'm pleased to announce the publication of my flash fiction piece "Spectacle", in the journal Chicago Literati. In case you're not a Chicago aficionado, the photo above should give a strong hint of the story's historical context. 

This is my first publication in almost two years, the delay being partly due to the fact that I only rarely submit to journals any longer, and also from lack of fresh material, as I've been writing long-form work lately instead of short stories. Though I might have to rectify this - seeing the story online this morning was quite a pleasant jolt. 

July 9, 2017 in Chicago Observations, Fiction | Permalink | Comments (0)


"As soon as the magic trick has been done the whole business of the fantasy writer is to keep everything else human and real. Touches of prosaic detail are imperative and a rigorous adherence to the hypothesis. Any extra fantasy outside the cardinal assumption immediately gives a touch of irresponsible silliness to the invention." - H.G. Wells

July 4, 2017 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

Peepshow token

At HiLobrow, Kio Stark writes an elegy for Times Square, through the prism of an old peepshow token. 

We got the new radio, but forgot the batteries. My uncle pulled over again and I hopped out, ran into a fluorescent-lit store and bought them. I felt utterly wild, alone in a flashing, raunchy world with a handful of cash. He was watching me the whole time, and I was never more than 20 yards from the van, but it was wild still.

July 2, 2017 in Current Affairs, Ephemera | Permalink | Comments (2)

"...signs and portents..."

Joseph Mitchell recalls his friend Ralph Ellison.

I remember a conversation I had with Ralph the last time I saw him, which was at a party celebrating his eightieth birthday. It was held in a restaurant on the Upper East Side. I arrived early and so did Ralph and we went to the bar and ordered martinis. Ralph asked, "How’ve you been?" And I said that reading the New York Times was beginning to get me down, and that I was seeing all kinds of signs and portents in it. I said that invisible man fought his way out of invisibility but that I was afraid he was in danger of becoming invisible again. Ralph laughed and it was his old-time deep, hearty laugh, which pleased me. "You never got over the depression, did you Joe?" he said. "No I did not," I said. "Nor did I," Ralph said, "But this is an excellent martini—almost as good as the ones Fanny makes. So let’s drink these good martinis and talk about those signs and portents some other time."

June 29, 2017 in Books | Permalink | Comments (1)


"I am a camera with its shutter open, quite passive, recording, not thinking. Recording the man shaving at the window opposite and the woman in the kimono washing her hair. Some day, all this will have to be developed, carefully printed, fixed." - Christopher Isherwood

June 25, 2017 in Books, Photography | Permalink | Comments (0)

Will County Tour

I've lived in Joliet for seventeen years, but have visited only about half of the towns in Will County. So yesterday, near the end of my four-week sabbatical from work, I tried to rectify this, by visiting every town in the county, along with various unincorporated areas that are significant enough to have formal names. I targeted thirty-five communities, and Maddie rode along for most of the trip.

Long story short, I didn't even get close to my goal.  I only made it to twenty-two, for several reasons. First off, Will County is pretty damned big in terms of acreage. There is also only a meandering route for visiting every town, often on slower two-lane roads, plus I focused on the eastern end of the county (I live at the western end), where I had never been before. Lastly, Maddie and were pretty worn out by the end, and didn't want to keep Julie waiting for us until dark. We completely missed the southwest corner of the county, where there's a relative cluster of old coal mining towns, unlike the spread-out farm towns in the center and eastern end - so maybe, some Saturday, Maddie and I can do the remaining towns. 

The entire excursion lasted from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., with only two bathroom breaks and one stop for coffee. Maddie and I had a great trip. We still got home in time to enjoy a hearty dinner, at roughly our usual time.

Below is a photo from every town and hamlet we visited.



Memorial garden for Lidice, Czechoslovakia, Crest Hill.



Former schoolhouse, Romeoville.



Defunct bingo parlor, Bolingbrook.



Shelter built by the Civilian Conservation Corps, Lockport. 



Messenger Marsh, Homer Glen.



Marley Community Church, Marley.



Former grain elevator, Mokena.



Water tower, Frankfort.



 Governors State University, University Park.



Bandshell, Steger.



Al's Barber Shop, Crete. 



St. Paul's Church, Monee. 



Former livery stable, Beecher. 



Peotone Bowl, Peotone. 



Storage shed, Andres. 



Farm, Wilton. 



Abandoned store, Wilton Center. 



Creamery ice cream store, Manhattan. 



Fire station, New Lenox. 



Lily pond, Elwood.



Defunct laundromat, Rockdale. 



Barber shop (and former camera store), Joliet. 

June 24, 2017 in Photography, Travel | Permalink | Comments (1)