Tuesday, January 20, 2015

In The Middle

Note to the Reader: I have had a LOT of off-brand Mucinex and am just cold medicine stoned enough that my cousin, Shawn, says I may not make sense.  So bear that in mind - if I'm not making sense, I'm not drunk.  I'm high. On cold medicine.

As you guys may know (or may not know... I'm not sure because, as I may have mentioned, I'm pretty stoned), I really hate this idea of the middle. The notion that there's some middle area between radical sides is the most toxic myth of the modern age.  Well, second most toxic after the one about how Reaganomics were behind a robust economic recovery.  Well, third most toxic after the one about how Reagan caused the fall of the iron curtain.  Well, fourth most... You know what: let's just nutshell it as most toxic aside from any part of the current tea party Reagan mythos.

So it's weird when I find myself wanting to take a middle part anywhere. I like the radical sides.  But I'm gonna move to the middle here; and, like all people who claim the middle, I'm going to feel very smug and self-satisfied about how reasonable and rational I am.

Side One says, "I left the house, jumped on my bike without a helmet and rode around all day and didn't come home until supper and I am so much better of a grown-up than your dumbass helicoptered kids are gonna be."  Side Two says, "Oh my god, that 12 year old is in the car with the windows rolled up in July.  I should probably call the cops."

Look, can't we agree that it's probably a net positive that our babies come home from the hospital in car seats instead of on their mothers laps?  Childhood mortality has gone down quite a bit since the halcyon days of my youth when (this is a true story) a kid broke her arm on the playground in the midst of a P.E. class where we were playing (I swear to the FSM this is true) "Smear the Queer" and the P.E. teacher shook the broken arm and said (just to reiterate: I am not making this up), "You're ok. Walk it off."  It's probably better now that our kids have those rubbery soft things under the jungle gyms and knee pads, etc.  This is a net positive.  This is a good thing.

On the other hand, it's OK for our kids to walk home from school despite the increasingly alarmist news stories about child abductions.  The world is safer now than it was when we were kids.  There's not a boogie man around every corner waiting to snatch our babies away.  And if you think the world is more dangerous now than it was when you were a kid, this is probably because the world always feels safer to a child than it does to a grown-up.

There.  The Middle.  Now that I've written this down it all seems painfully obvious.  But you guys will forgive me because, you know, I have a cold!  The "Smear the Queer" story was pretty good, though, right? I'm pretty sure that it's true.  To be honest, it was 35 years ago and I'm high.  But this is how I remember it.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

A Blogpost About Privilege, Made Palatable Via Addition of Dreamboat Gifs

I think we can all safely agree that people are weird.  That's OK, though:

But sometimes a particular subsection of the general populace engages in a kind of weirdness that is disheartening and annoying.

For example, there is a disheartening and annoyingly pervasive reaction to any discussion involving privilege.  I know. It's a tiresome word.  

But I still want to talk a little about it.  Here's the thing: privilege isn't a choice.  Privilege exists entirely outside of your control.  So when discussions of it arise and you go all:

It makes me go all:


Even worse, when examples of institutional sexism or racism arise and you go all:

Then all sensible people go:

Privilege isn't some kind of rhetorical, weaponized guilt dispenser: 

  It's just a real thing that exists and that we should all be aware of.

Because the only way to fix a flawed system is for the folks within the system, especially the folks for whom the system is, uh, systemically advantageous, to be aware of the flaw.   Got it?

I know you'd get it.  You're so smart.  Also:

Monday, January 5, 2015

Me Before I

I come here tonight in defense of the word "me."  "Me" is too often maligned; tossed aside imperiously in favor of its cousin "I."  Let's all stop doing that.

I suspect that in your youth you were frequently admonished against beginning your sentences with the word "me." You'd say, "Me and Johnny are going to the playground."  And your mom would say,  "Johnny and I are going to the playground." And you'd say, "Well, can I come too?"  And your mom would laugh because you were such an endearing little scamp.  But her lesson was internalized.  People who say "me" are like this:

You would prefer to be like this:

And so whenever you feel the need to refer to yourself via a pronoun, you opt for "I."  This may lead you to say things like "Will you drive Johnny and I to the playground?"  Or "Between you and I, Johnny is a little old to be hanging out at the playground."  

This is not proper grammar.  It is the grammatical equivalent of this:

It is likely to result in reactions like this:

The word "me" is a wonderful word.  It is not "I"'s poor relation.  "Me" is quite sophisticated in its own right.  "Me" has earned its place at the table and will comport itself with manners and decorum.  Do not fear "me."  

Nay, I say! It is not "me" that you should be leery of; rather cast a suspicious eye at "I."  "I" is a Manchurian Candidate.  "I" tends to finagle sentence position it has not earned.  "I" can be kind of a pretentious asshole.  

And while I'm steering you clear of hifalutin misfires - you know the wine blend Meritage?  That's an American wine blend.  Pronounce accordingly.

Now go off to your fancy dinner parties, you paragon of grammatical and oenophilic sophistication!   I'll stay here in my pajamas farting around on the internet. But there's no need to thank me.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Leaving The March

But the effect of her being on those around her was incalculably diffusive: for the growing good of the world is partly dependent on unhistoric acts; and that things are not so ill with you and me as they might have been, is half owing to the number who lived faithfully a hidden life, and rest in unvisited tombs.

I read George Eliot's Middlemarch for the first time shortly after I stopped working at the bar.  The paragraph above is my favorite piece of writing ever.  It is so beautiful and so kind and so perfectly phrased.  And it was in reading that paragraph, after having closed a chapter on my life, that I decided to write this book, even though it took me many more years to actually start writing it.

And today is the day I put it behind me.

Streeters, the bar I worked in throughout my 20's in the 90s, is the inspiration for the bar called The March, but the book called The March is a fairly faithful revisioning of Middlemarch.  The plot is lifted wholesale.  All my characters correlate directly to one in Middlemarch, save Bulstrode who correlates to two (he's both Eliot's Bulstrode and Featherstone) and Rosie who is not really Eliot's Rosamund.  As I wrote Rosie I fell a little in love with her and she ended up coming more from my own imagination than George Eliot's. Rosie is my favorite character.  Oh, Rosie, I'll miss you most of all!

I'll also say here since I know she's reading: Joelle, there's a lot of you in Mary. And since I know he's reading: Danno, Teddy's odiousness is inspired entirely by George Eliot.  There is none of you in him.    

I feel sad to leave all these people, whom I've lived with for a very long time. We've been together for years and years.  When I think of writing this book, I picture myself sitting on the floor by the pool at Senn High while a 5 year old Laney took swimming lessons; desperately trying to keep the laptop dry as I pecked out words and lived in a fictional past.

I picture myself scrounging out an outlet at Shedd Aquarium, so I could finish the last chapter for the first time by the Beluga whales.  I've always really liked those Beluga whales.

I picture myself sitting at a table at a Rogers Park diner, half-eaten grilled cheese beside my laptop, puzzling out some plot point while daring to imagine a life where this was what I did for a living (wrote books, not ate grilled cheese... although I suppose that'd be a pretty good career too).

I loved to write this book.

But, because it is I not Iggy who is the realest, I need to be honest: it's not great.  It has moments that are pretty good. There are paragraphs that hover around really good.  But it is not great.  It is only sort of good here and there.   I failed to hold myself up to the kind of rigorous honesty that you need to make something great.  I pulled punches that George Eliot would never have pulled.  And despite the years I spent writing it, I was lazy as fuck at several points.

And goddammit, I could never fucking figure out how to start this thing!

This doesn't make me sad, though.  Well, it makes me a little sad.  I would have liked to write something that people would read and discuss at book clubs.  I would have loved to have written something really good. But I didn't.

But I still loved to write this book.

I loved living in that world. I love Brooke and Rosie and Tre and Will.  And I'm glad I got to know them.  I loved needling away at sentences and taking long walks to try and figure out how to move the plot into the 20th century.  I loved imagining a Chicago bar in the 60s and describing the work I did when I learned how to work at a bar.

I loved to write this book.

So even if I don't think it's in the cards for me to make a living by writing stories, I can still write stories.  There is merit and there is joy in trying to tell a story even if you are not entirely successful in the telling.

It's time to put The March behind me and start a new story.  And I'll pop those stories up here as they come.  And maybe it won't even take me another 7 years.

The March: Epilogue

Chapter 63

It is too sad, too mean to leave these young people without telling you a bit about how their lives turned out.  An epilogue. Yes. That's just the thing.

Gio and Celia
They were each other’s first loves.  But not each other’s last. They married other people, had children, and are happy.  Gio has a successful career in IT management.  Celia is a buyer for Macy’s.  When they look back on their relationship (which they do less and less, but still, sometimes), they remember each other fondly and give their distant love affair the dignity of acknowledging its seriousness.  When it became a thing, Celia found Gio on Facebook.  They comment admiringly on pictures of each other’s children and are happy to see the other happy.

If it seems sad they didn’t end up together, it’s not.  How many of us have shared our whole lives with our first love?  Or even our second? Third? But we can all consider ourselves lucky if our first love gave us a good romance and prepared us well for the one that lasts.  Gio and Celia are.

Fred and Mary
By then end of 1992, Fred had taken over the day-to-day operations of the Lightweight Group.  He was, as Caleb always said, a natural.  The business runs smoothly, uneventfully and ethically.  The Lightweight Group is one of the few restaurant groups in the city to offer health insurance to its waitstaff and it’s carried on with Brooke’s environmental initiatives.  The L.G.E. bars were green long before it was hip to be so. 

Mary is in the Justice department, just as she’d always wanted.  She’s been involved with several high-profile investigations and has happily become, as she calls it, the fucking bane of the Chicago political fucking machine.

She and Fred are very happy together.

Rosie did indeed take a bite out of the Big Apple.  She was the main DJ at New York’s Lobo for a few years and then enjoyed a brief on camera stint on MTV.  She was a New York trendsetter through most of the 90s, eventually landing a gig at a hot New York Magazine right around 2000.  Although these days, she’s a bit long in the tooth for setting the trends in the clubs, she stays on top of what they are, and covers them with a keen eye and a sharp tongue.  She always knows what bands are about to break, and exactly what kind of clothes the people that dance to them wear.  She’s invited to all the best parties.  

At some point her fearlessness façade gave way to the real thing.

Also, around 30, she stopped starving herself and put on 25 pounds.

She looks great.

Tré ended up, in all places, as a marketing director for a software company.  He bounced around from bar to bar and club to club trying to make a go of a career in the nightlife forefront before being recruited into the fledgling industry of start up software.  You’ll be glad to know that Tré was far too prudent to have taken much of a hit during the dot.com bust.

He married a little later in life.  Tré was 40 when he met a nice woman with whom he had a lot of fun. They had a couple of kids together.  They pay cash for everything. 

Tré subscribes to Rosie’s magazine and always gets a big kick out of reading the things she writes.

He and Brooke remain fast friends.  When she married Will, he stood up on her side, right next to her maid of honor, Celia.

Brooke and Will
Brooke does good and important work at an environmental not-for-profit. Will works as a community organizer and as a professor of political science.

They are living happily ever after. 

They have drinks at The March on every anniversary.

After it became public knowledge that she and Will were a couple the L.G.E. staff and regulars had a bit of a gossip field day.  A sustained field day.  As a matter of fact, if you were to pop into The March or Scottie’s for a drink tomorrow night, an old timer might grin knowingly or leer lasciviously at the memory of the girl who was schtupping the uncle and the nephew at the same time.  You know the one – she ended up with the guy who had the money.  They might smirk around theories as to the role that black guy played.  You know the one – he had something to do with the old owner who stole money from the nephew’s mom.

But you and I know the real story: Brooke had planned to save the world.  But she learned that the world was too big for one girl to save.  Instead, she nurtured her own generous spirit, she made friends, she fell in love and she embraced the value of kindness.  The effects of which, as I once read, are incalculably diffusive.

At the end, I offer one last authorial interruption with two fond hopes for you, my reader. 

The first: May you remember that of all the things we have to be grateful for in this sweet old world, our largest debt of gratitude may lie with a person whose name we don’t knew, who’ll never show up in a history book, whose obituary will be listed alphabetically, without an accompanying picture. Our largest debt of gratitude may lie with some kind stranger who lifted the burden of someone else and left our world a gentler and better place.

The second: Neighborhood taverns are not as easy to find on the streets of Chicago as they were 20 years ago.  But wherever you live, however you live, I hope you find your March.  It is, despite all the petty gossip and distant nicotine stains, a wonderful place to be.

The March, Chapter 63: Happy Endings

Let’s dance!

On the night of Rosie’s big gig at Lobo, Fred walked into the office at The March to pick up his new staff shirt.   He was going to work the door for a month or so and then Caleb would put him behind the bar.  They figured he’d have learned the ropes enough to be a fully functioning assistant manager within a couple months.   Mary was sitting at the desk doing paperwork.  When Fred walked in, he grinned at her. “I guess I’m just getting started while you’re on the way out.”

“Fuckin A, Fred,” said Mary. “This is what you want to do?”

“This is what I want to do,” he agreed.

“Well, shit,” she said  “I think that’s genuinely fucking awesome.”

And that’s when Fred kissed her. 

(This, too, was totally romantic.)

They headed out together, holding hands no less, to Lobo. The March staff all planned to show up and support Rosie on her big night.

When Fred and Mary got there, they found Will and Brooke sitting at a table with Gio and Celia.  They joined them and ordered beers and shots.  They crowded around a small table, playing Thumper, laughing, and ignoring or enjoying the stink eye shot their way from the cool club kids.
On her way back from a trip to the ladies’, Brooke passed Tré, sitting alone at the bar, sipping a glass of water.  Even his hair looked deflated.

“Tré!” said Brooke, giving him a hug.  “Why are you sitting here by yourself?  Come sit with us!  We’re acting like idiots.  You’d love it.”

“Oh, no thanks, Brooke,” said Tré.  “I’m just here to see Rosie and then I’m on my way home.”

“Why not,” she asked, sitting down next to him.  “We’d love for you to join us!  All of us would.”

“Shit, Brooke,” said Tré, too exhausted for subterfuge  “I don’t have any money to buy rounds.  I’m days away from getting kicked out of my apartment.  I don’t have a job.  And Rosie hates me.  I’m just too depressed to be around people.  But I really wanted to see Rosie do her thing before I left.”

“Rosie doesn’t hate you,” said Brooke.  “She cares about you very much.  And if you come sit with us, we’ll cheer you up.  And don’t worry about buying rounds.  No one cares about that.”

“I care about that,” said Tré.  “I’m just … just terrible fucking company, Brooke.  Go back to your friends and have fun.”

“You’re my friend” said Brooke.  “And I don’t want you to sit here alone being miserable.  Please come sit with… Oh!  I have a great idea!”

“What,” said Tré.

“You should move in with me!” she said.  “Celia practically lives with Gio and I have an extra bedroom and the rent is next to nothing.  We can float you until you get on your feet.  It’s perfect.”

“Brooke,” Tré smiled.  “I can’t live with you and not pay rent.

“Why the hell not,” said Brooke.  “I have a free room and you’re a nice person.  And I remember how you backed my recycling plan.  It’s the best thing I’ve done and I have you to thank for it.  Listen, Tré.  Just do it!”

He was quiet.”

“As for Rosie,” said Brooke letting him think about the apartment deal.   “You know she doesn’t hate you.  She’s just scared about New York.”

Tré stayed quiet, but something inside of him seemed to ease.

Brooke reached over and took Tré’s hand.  “Tré,” she said.  “Come on.”

He was silent a moment longer, looking down at his sad glass of water.  Sometimes you just have to say ‘yes.’  He smiled at Brooke and squeezed her hand back.  “OK, Brooke,” he said. “Thank you.”

Brooke hugged him hard and then took his hand and led him back to the table.

“Look who I found,” she said, announcing him.

“Tré!” shouted the table.

“We’re playing fucking Thumper,” said Mary. “Like a bunch of dumbasses.”

“You are dumbasses,” said Tré, squeezing in.  “Has anyone taken the black power sign?  That’s always mine.”

“Jagermeister for you,” said Fred, putting a shot in front of him. “And a Heineken.  You have some catching up to do.”

Before too much longer it was midnight and the DJ announced, “We have a special guest tonight.  Ladies and Gentlemen… Rosie.”

The club chatter only died down after about 45 seconds without music.  And when the crowd stopped chatting, the place grew silent, and the silence began to linger.  Tré knew this trick, but still, he began to feel nervous.  Where was Rosie?  The atmosphere thickened in confusion and anticipation.  And just as it seemed that the silence would reach its breaking point, Rosie entered.

She stood up on the DJ platform, somehow managing to look spotlit.  She was wearing a strapless black leotard, fishnets and thigh high boots.  She’d cut off her long flaxen hair and it haloed around her head in blonde, punky spikes.  Her lips were red.  Behind her, the music began to swell with a familiar “ahhh-ahhh-ahhh- ahhh.” Rosie threw her arms in the air and turned slowly around.  Her back was tattooed with a succulent, blood red apple; a yellow snake wrapped around it, its mouth open, just prepared to take a bite. Rosie leaned into the microphone and said, “All right, Chicago.  Let’s get this shit started.”

LL Cool J boomed out of the speakers, and demanded, “Don’t call it a comeback.”  And as Mama Said Knock You Out filled the room, Lobo exploded in delight.

The night before the whole city had celebrated the Bulls victory.  Tonight, the people who’d served them drinks and cleaned up after them, celebrated Rosie’s.  She was off to New York the very next day.

And the March crew?  They danced all night.

Monday, December 22, 2014

The March, Chapter 62: Things That Fell Apart Start Coming Together

Chapter 61

Ducky, you love this girl.  You love her and you have to tell her.  And if she laughs, she laughs.
-Pretty in Pink

Chicago went bananas the night the Bulls won their first championship.  People streamed out of bars, running up and down city streets, in between and around the cars.  Major thoroughfares turned into parking lots, but happy parking lots (save for those few poor non-basketball loving souls).  For most of Chicago, it was all high fives and hugs, spontaneous renditions of We Are the Champions.  But in some places the madness teetered on the edge of violence, in others it spilled over.  Bullets fired in the air, after all, will eventually come down.  The teeming, inebriated flocks on Division Street flipped a cab onto its back.  But for most of us, it was fun; mad, wild fun.

Eventually the outdoor celebrations waned and people hustled, en masse, back into the bars they’d poured out of.  The vibe at The March held firm at non-violent levels, but the crowd shortly began to feel like more than the slight weekday staff could handle.  Caleb had scheduled an experienced crew with himself behind the bar, Brooke on the floor and Will at the door.  This should have been ample even on a very busy Tuesday night.

But this wasn’t busy.  It went so far past busy that busy became a fond memory.  This was championship busy.  People, who were until very recently, the most casual of sports fans, folks who’d always opted for Friends on Thursday nights over the basketball game, swarmed, drunk on Jagermeister and victory.  They clamored for beers and shots shots shots!  They toasted loudly and dropped their beer bottles.  They delayed orders, holding onto Brooke’s arm, reliving the glorious moment of John Paxson’s winning shot.  Offkey versions of Queen and Gary Glitter filled the air.  It was bedlam.

Fred walked into this chaos: Will was holding two cases of Old Style against the wall with his body, while dealing with three clearly underage girls.  Brooke was desperately collecting glassware that Caleb didn’t have time to wash while a drunken inamoratus hovered over her repeating, “It was so awesome!  Did you see it?  It was AWESOME!”  Grinning fools waved bills at Caleb as he whirled around, cracking open two beers in each hand, ringing up an order, making change.  Suddenly he stopped, looked around, and made an executive decision.  He grabbed the bar mic and barked into it: “STAFF – TO THE BAR.  NOW!”

Fred grabbed one of the cases from Will and positioned himself between Brooke and her would-be basketball boyfriend and said, “Let’s go.”

The three hustled to the bar apace.  Caleb said, “We’re switching up: Brooke, you’re back here with me.  Will, congratulations, you’re a server now.  But you still need to get people proofed and don’t go getting tip-happy.  Also, do not come up here without glassware.  We’ll tell you what things cost.”
“Caleb,” said Fred.  “Do you want me to watch the door and help out on the floor?”

“Oh, man, I could kiss you,” said Caleb. 

They quickly made the changes.,  Brooke worked the service end of the bar and moved like a dervish, washing dishes, pouring shots.  Will proved a capable server, moving quickly back and forth between customer and bar, cheery and confident.  Fred kept on top of everything and anything that got missed.  He thwarted fights and kept minors out of the bar.  He bussed tables and mopped up spills.  He went so far as to tidy up the bathroom after a 22 yr old lost a violent and disgusting battle with his last shot of Rumplemintz.

The evening ran surprisingly smoothly.

Caleb called last call at 1:30 and they made quick work of ushering everyone out of the bar.
As Fred helped Will put stools up on the bar, he noticed that he felt happy.  He’d worked really hard and stank of cigarette smoke and spilled beer and the lingering, foul malodor of that poor kid’s upchucked Rumplemintz.  But he felt sore in his body in that way you do after you’ve worked hard at a rewarding task.  The Heineken that Caleb gave him tasted really good. 

“Caleb,” he said on his way to the bar to grab a beer.  “Do you think I have a future in tavern management?”

“Yeah,” said Caleb, tipping his bottle towards him.  “I think you’d be great.”

In the meantime, Will and Brooke sat in the office.  Brooke was tasked with helping Will do his first paperwork.  They shared the small space, side-by-side over the scarred pressed wood desk, counting money. The silence between them was thick.

Brooke broke it. “I like you, Will.  I like you and I think we should be together.”

Will froze.  Time stretched out in unreasonable ways.  Brooke stared down at the desk, the dollar bills she’d been marrying into stacks of twenty-five death-gripped in both hands.  She was tense down to her toes, embarrassed and afraid.

Will turned to look at her, face in pretty profile, staring hard at the desk.  He smiled.  Worrisome, frustrating feelings began to gather themselves up, nod a reluctant farewell, and lift themselves from his weary shoulders.  Save one.

“I like you too, Brooke,” he said.  “I like you so much.  I never think about anyone but you.  But if we’re together, than people will talk so much shit about you.  They’ll say you were only with Teddy for money.  I can’t stand for people to think things like that about you.”

Oh, of all the pernicious fictions that young men accept as fact, the most depressing among them is that female virtue is theirs to protect and defend.  First of all, that kind of virtue is overestimated to a ridiculous degree, valuable mostly as something the loss of which is easily weaponized.  Second, whatever responsibility for it there is belongs to the woman to whom it is attached.  And these girls, even all those years ago, worried less and less about being called sluts.  It’s an invective that says more about the one hurling it than its target.  Brooke, for one, couldn’t have cared less.

In love for real this time, though, Brooke knew that Will’s intentions were good.  And she happily expected lots of time to usher Will into a good feminist mindset.  So rather than be offended, she smiled.

“Will,” she said,  “I couldn’t give the tiniest rat’s ass what people say about me.  I only care what you think right now.” 

And this time she meant it.

And they kissed.  And it was totally romantic.

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