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Most folks at the Old Town Aquarium watch the polka dotted rays, the exotic saltwater fish that live in tanks the size of bedroom furniture.
I watch the translucent fish - the ones the size of safety pins. I watch the one jerk-fish.
His tiny heart at triple speed, he barges into the tightly suspended group at the other end of the tank. A quiet bystander suddenly becomes the chased. Flitting and darting, with jerk-fish matching his every acceleration, the bystander eventually refinds drifting anonymity. And jerk-fish is already two-thirds of the way into his next harassment.
I read in an interview:
“Addy and I were in our underwear, slipping in the muck at the edge of the pond. We’d been swimming. Then a man came through the brush by the path, and attacked me. I was so surprised. He was choking me and I fell to the ground.”
“Well, I was able to pick up a rock that fit in my hand like a grapefruit, and I brought it with all my strength and will upon that man’s head.”
“What happened to the man?”
“That man never did talk quite right again after that.”
I stayed in bed, on my back, not propped up. The trees were black and wild with wind. Birds would take flight and expand tenfold. It was like a scene from a scary cartoon, with these giant black shadows moving so quickly before the shaking trees. Gray was seeping in everywhere.
My phone rang and I answered because it was Wendy, who would be done teaching already. She said, "Hello!" And, "It's beautiful outside. Maybe you want to meet in the woods and go for a run." I did, and she bounced on her heels and smiled while I stretched.
The new owners of the Inn-Between cleaned and ruined - traded adornments that had been mounted with a laugh as punctuation for a story, a memory, for sports bar crap. Only Eddie's bad Pollak painting survived the purge.
Eddie used to be famous here, but his celebrity was fading at the same daily pace that the clientele was becoming more showered and confident.
A guy with teeth and hair gel glanced at the painting, "Is that art?" The owner shrugged. He didn't know Eddie was the artist. Eddie sat still, quiet. That next time he returned, the painting was gone.
I was situated crossways on a big chair, my knees up, a drawing pad resting on my legs. My parents and the Laskins had been out. I could hear them through the walls. I have a vivid memory of my red felt-tipped drawing of a Storm Trooper getting his head knocked off.
Dick Laskin came in and talked to me for a long time about boxing. He and my parents had traveled to Vegas to see Ali. I knew this. I had seen a picture of Dick sitting on a railing in jeans, with his moustache, smoking a cigarette.
Partial cast for the Wisconsin jam weekend:
Eddie can play some guitar. He knows the entire introduction to "Lonely is the Night".
Kenny hasn't played long. He likes to play "The First Cut is the Deepest."
Jakes owns a drum set and looks really cool behind it but doesn't really know how to play them.
When Hal was drinking, he used to sing on other people's stages. He still sings, but not like he used to.
George wrote "Hartenstine" and "Toast and Jelly".
Patone wrote "Ego Trip" and "Rent my Monkey"
The Mayor was in Karmageddon, Alpha Jerk and Patonica.
Early, I used a small red snow-shovel to bring leaves up from the concrete stairs that go down to the basement, while Xavi, the two year old who lives next door, watched from the top.
Wendy and I traveled for seven hours. We saw a cloud of birds twist and turn over a cornfield like a misplaced school of fish.
In Beloit, Wendy rented a car. She was heading further west, and I east. The rental agency surprised us with a black on black Dodge minivan. We parked it on a bridge on mainstreet and humped in the back.
Last night we covered the entire house, except the kitchen and bathroom, with hide-a-bed matresses - like one big baby area made for adults. My friends had been drinking all day and night and I, being off beer for about three and half years, had not. Five minutes after lights out, the first gentle snores began to echo from the far side of our giant crib. Not long after, the other five guys began to snore in the same peaceful way. I wouldn't have guessed that a chorus a six drunk dudes snoring could create such a pleasant soundscape.
As a kid, when I would hear a football announcer say, "He's a 9 year veteran." or, "A twelfth year veteran..." I'd think, "Man, a lot of these guys are vegetarians." We had two cats who spent their days in the catnip patch at the side of our yard. They had stoned demeanors. The catnip patch brushed up against the edge of our field for neighborhood football. Balls and feet often crashed down in that patch,sometimes revealing little white faces unfazed and uninterested - only for a moment, and then the catnip again closed its curtain and hid its patrons.
St. John was a big shot in the bond pit at the Board of Trade. 500 large guys wedged themselves, chest-to-shoulder, in the pit every day.
On that vast and humid trading floor, the bond pit swelled and breathed like a living thing. Suddenly there would be a burst in the pit's corner, like a bubble popping in a flow of molten lava, and St. John would elevate for a moment above everyone - his arms flailing wildly, his voice screeching. He was violently turning this giant market to a new price, and the pit would groan and twist.
Tomorrow we go from 57 to 33. This seems bigger than 76 to 52, or 24 to zero. I'm ready though, ready to have snow sneak in the side of my sneaker and hit my bare foot when I rush the garbage to the curb. I'm ready to dig through yesterday's lump of running clothes to gear up and take a cold night run with Wendy. I'm ready for a slap of air on the face, ready for clinching and shivering while waiting on a noisy car heater. I've never felt this way about winter. I am certain of it.
It seems that the pen can always go slower. Send the hounds ahead, barking and scurrying on all kinds of errant paths. While back here, I thoughtfully choose the way. The slowness of the vehicle demands it. I don't know if it helps. But, there is resistance, and fighting it feels good. Josh says that growth happens at the point of resistance. He's a double world champion. Jennifer Aniston says that the best smell in the world is the smell of your man. I have a bet with Wendy that that dude on the magazine cover will never marry her.
Today I had an urge to go out back and start digging a hole. Some guys run everyday. My buddy Tony has run every day for the past four-hundred and twelve. What if I went out and dug my hole for ninety minutes every day? Well, people would think I was crazy. There would be unforeseen complications. These things seem certain. But, it also seems an honest workout, a better discipline than anything offered at the local Lifetime Fitness. Hmmm: "Millions of Americans are ditching their club dues and spandex for a shovel and a pair of leather gloves..."
In 1973, Cherrie, unmarried, unboyfriended, became pregnant at the same time as her mother. The births were nearly simultaneous, and the world, including the newborns would spend the next 18 years thinking Con and Cory twins. On his 18th birthday, Con's drunken mother/sister unexpectedly spilled the beans.
Sometimes around dawn, Con drives over to Cory's house. He parks by the gate and quietly walks to the motocross trail that Cory's husband built. Con sets out his little remote control truck on the track. The little engine whirs. Florida at daybreak. If somebody sees him, he waves as he's leaving.
Halfway. The bar that has been super low is about to get lower. In the interest of keeping this project afloat, this is the 100 that is just that: 100. I don't mean to suggest that any of my other submissions were much more than just a 100, but at least it wasn't so transparently the case. Sixty-nine. I get a kick out of guys who are well past 40 years old and still giggle and look sideways when the number 69 surfaces unexpectedly or they have a chance to choose it from a batch of 1 to 100.
Years ago, before anyone realized that Hal had gone mad, a bunch of us had a snowball fight on the way to a local November party. Dan and Amy started drawing in the snow on the hood and windshield of a parked car. They made a bunny and a flower and were laughing and collaborating. Hal quickly drew something on the back window and walked away. When the happy couple finished, they walked arm in arm to the back of the car to see what Hal had contributed. His big ungloved finger left easy to read words, "Hal will Kill."
Memories came today, full-bodied and different. The first came while awaiting a left turn arrow at a downtown intersection. It was the same place, the same time of day, the same time of year, where a decade ago a sleepy guy shot through his red light and smashed me head-on. Sometimes I wonder about that crash and the changes that followed: Quit smoking, quit drinking, quit marriage. It usually doesn't freak me out to again wait on my arrow in that lane. Today though I wondered about sneaking my car out enough just to get a little clipped.
I ruin shoes. Give me a pair of Reeboks to slide over my bare feet for some dusty front yard soccer and later, on the way home, you'll be begging me tie my vile footwear outside around the car's roof-rack.
The sales woman at the Merrell store tells me of a technology there. She tells me that she has worn the same shoes for three summers now, without socks, without odor. I am not one to doubt man's ability to triumph over nature. But, if you put these feet in those shoes, those shoes are going to stink. Period.
5) 5: Vehicle - Body through time
a) 4: Nothing but occasional shifting of sources of shade and light on the other side of closed eyes.
b) Birds. Thoughts of dispersing.
c) A house plant.
d) Pain on my right ankle, then my head. Chest effortlessly contracting.
e) The top of my mouth - and it is clean.
a) 3: Mind awake, but body fatigued. Tall, stoned, cold-footed. Concrete.
b) Open and airy up top, heavy and cold down
8) Sergio heard us talking about dog brain. At the bar, he still thinks it's funny.
There are places I visit in my dreams. They are made up places, or maybe a collage of real places with imagination in the seams.
There is a hotel, a fancy one, with a bank of glass elevators by the marble check in counter. Other elevators are down the hall, old and painted. They are always fucking up.
The parking garage is a separate structure. It is much less ornate, with low ceilings and brown brick.
The gyms (3 courts) are up on 22. There is a locker-room and a commissary there. They feel like something from high-school.
Sometimes this work, with its strange inconsistent hours and the unreliable and spotty sleep schedule it demands, blurs the line separating one day from the next. By week's end, things can feel strange and ethereal.
I'm okay with this sleep deprived stupor. Soon, my dumb ass will be out trotting through the cold lights-out neighborhood with Wendy and things will seem vivid, bender-like. We'll run by the churches, and the school, and the three parks, the second hand store, and the fly-fishing shop. When we walk back up the driveway, the lights inside will look deep orange.
I went to Floyd's for a haircut. The walls there are covered top to bottom with gigantic rock and roll images - John Mayer in bed, shirtless with a guitar, young Madonna in a bustier, the Chili Peppers, The Clash.
In the chair across from me sat a young boy. His barber was a great big dude with a black tank-top and hairy arms. The kid's gaze came up to meet mine and he looked miserable. I gave him no signs of reassurance. We just sat facing each other, solemnly, with the bass heavy rock echoing through the tall barbershop.
Hal pushed me into the corner of a marble building and my rib broke. Later, after the bar closed, twenty people came over and I found myself hosting a party. Johnny R., who hosted a local sports radio show, was loaded. In a moment of confusion, he kicked in my back door and left it in shards on the kitchen floor. Then, while I was talking, he abruptly kissed me on the lips. With his oily skin that smelled of stale smoke and old yellow alcoholic, his sharp whiskers, this was clearly not a moment of sexual awakening for me.
Maybe I was a dog - some sort of hunting dog, maybe a Weimaraner, not a smart one. When somebody came over, I'd go nuts.
One day maybe I saw that the two dogs who lived next door were on the loose. Maybe in a fit of mad desire that trumped physics, I shoved my head, shoulders, and entire body under the tiny fence gap by the garage. Maybe the three of us ran full speed from bush to bush, driveway to driveway smelling the shit out of everything, with abandon of one who knows he is about to be punished.
I had a vision, a lingering memory, or an ideal of the kind of man who worked outside in the winter at the airport, prepping the plane, loading luggage.
I think it started as a kid, hopefully awaiting school closing news on frigid mornings. I would see these guys on TV, loading, lifting, driving - all with measured purpose. There is one guy who wears a salt-stained orange jumpsuit. He has a thick moustache. To me, that guy was, and is, so cool - and as I found myself, decades later, reading the daunting job description, I wanted to become him.
It happens still that a bold foreigner occasionally suggests that my prowess and my legend are entirely due to my lifelong possession of the Elfsbane Blade.
Years ago, I would say, "You see, when you have Elfsbane, everyone knows you and either wants to help you or kill you. You improve."
It seems that I gave this explanation/defense daily for over twenty years and I believed it. Now though, I still say the words, but as an old man, I have realized that it is in fact all because of the sword, and admitting that has taken a lifetime.
Thanksgiving in Wicker Park. It' s quiet there, literally quiet. All day, but especially at night, the sound of a car passing over the snow-dampened avenue echoes off the buildings in a way that makes each passing unusually distinct.
On this block, two guys and a girl are outside Nick's - stay-warm postures under the single overhead light that casts a clear white cone at the entrance. Each one is bobbing and dancing as they smoke and talk. Only a few bars are open: distant sidewalk occasions, dancing silhouettes out front, bobbing and smoking and talking in white breath.
Bill and Barb emerge from the Subaru, wearing grey sweatsuits that pucker at the ankle. They walk to the porch-sized rectangle of grass. They stop, line up, look straight ahead and begin. Barb has tiny rubber pink dumbbells and she does big, full wingspan stretches down to her toes and up to the sky, alternating and twisting like a rag-doll windmill. Simultaneously, Bill extends his arms like a sleep walker, and begins his strange march, violently bringing one knee and then the next up chest high. They'll do this for ten minutes and then return to the Subaru.
The idea, months ago, was that to run everyday, no matter what, might prove a remedy for this malaise .
Today was bright and hot and I was hung-over. The remedy, in general, wasn't working.
Not far away, under a wide tree, a mother spread out a quilt in the shade. She placed her baby on his back. Then she started shaking her head, making funny sounds, touching her face to his. I imagined that baby, out of breath from laughing, rolling his face toward me and saying, "Holy Shit! I don't know what this is... But it is awesome."
Wendy says, "Write it until you like it." How about, "Write it until it doesn't totally blow?" Or, "Write it until your sense of self-loathing dissipates a bit?" I tried to write an account of the time I saw Tony Abbatangelo getting a haircut in the window of Lala's on LaSalle. I made all kinds of faces and obscene gestures to get him to laugh, but he just looked at me stone faced - almost scared. When I saw him the next day and asked what was up, I learned that he had an identical twin. But, that story sucked.
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