Friday, August 29, 2014

The March, Chapter 26: Brooke and Will

Chapter 25

Maitre ‘D: Abe Froman?  The sausage king of Chicago?
Ferris Bueller: That’s me.
                                    -Ferris Bueller’s Day Off

The next morning, Teddy and Brooke were sitting at the kitchen table having a quiet breakfast, reading the newspaper, when something she read triggered Brooke’s simmering enthusiasm and she couldn’t contain it anymore.  She set the paper down and grabbed Teddy’s hands in both of hers.

“You know what,” she said.  “You have more than enough material for your wonderful book!  Let’s start putting it together!  Today!  You can dictate to me and I’ll transcribe!”

 “Not yet, Brooke,” said Teddy, without looking up from the paper.  “This is my project and I’ll decide when it’s time to begin the compilation.”

Brooke was disappointed, and kind of pissed, but she reined it in and responded conciliatorily.  “I’m sorry if I spoke out of turn.”

“That’s quite all right,” said Teddy. “Your youthful exuberance can be charming.  Now, I’m heading to the Newberry this morning to examine a manuscript.”

“Fine,” said Brooke.  Let me get the dishes done and I’ll go with you.”

“Oh, there’s no need,” said Teddy.  “I expect you’ll be bored.  It’s just old books.”

And that was that.  Brooke’s temper exploded.

“Goddammit, Teddy,” she burst out.  “What have I ever done to make you think I was bored with this research?  I’ve been enthusiastic over every discovery you’ve made.  I’ve never complained, never sighed or rolled my eyes at what you do. And you sit there across the table so… so fucking dismissively!  So sure that I’m just some dumb girl who could never understand what you do.  Why, Teddy?  What have I ever done to make you doubt my commitment to this project?

After a long, stunned silence, Teddy responded.  “I guess I was just surprised that someone like you would be interested in this stuff.”

“I was interested in this stuff, Teddy, before I met you,” she responded.  “I’m going for a walk.  Just go to the library without me and I’ll see you later or something.

Brooke walked into the brisk November air and wandered around the Gold Coast despondently, struggling with her thoughts and holding back tears.  At one point, she walked right past the Bulstrode residence.  If she’d looked up, she’d have spied Susan Bulstrode in the window of her beautiful brownstone, sipping a cup of tea, planning the Thanksgiving menu.  But Brooke didn’t look up and wouldn’t have known who Susan was anyway.  Brooke remained blithely unaware of how close she lived to the seat of all that Lightweight power.

She worried at her relationship with Teddy.  He was, after all, the same man that she’d sat next to at The March and been so enamored of.  And he was the man who could help usher her into significance in the environmental movement.  But she was so irritated with him! So frustrated at how he treated her.  

She was so sick of always being in transition!  She swiped away angry tears.

Coffee, she decided.  She wanted some coffee and something sweet.  So she wandered into a coffee shop and sat at a table with a hot cup of coffee and a rich, chocolate brownie.  She shrugged off her jacket and settled into her seat, opening a copy of The Reader.  Back in those dreary internet-less days, metropolitan youth relied on free weeklies to communicate with each other.  The Reader was home to Savage Love and Life in Hell and some truly inspired personals.  Brooke banished all thoughts of Teddy and the new wrinkles in their relationship and settled into enjoy her coffee, brownie and the paper. 

It wasn’t long before she was feeling a little better.

When Will walked into the shop, he almost didn’t recognize her.  She was sitting cross-legged on a chair, paper spread out in front, giggling at something she was reading.  She looked nice!

“Brooke,” he said, walking up to her.

She looked up and, after a moment of befuddlement, said, “Oh!  Will, hi.”

“Hey,” he said.  “Um, do you mind if I sit here with you?”

“Of course not,” she said.  “I was just reading the paper.  Check out this Life in Hell.”

Will read it and laughed.  “I love this strip,” he said. “Do you watch The Simpsons?

“Well, not anymore that I live with Teddy,” she said.  “He doesn’t have a TV. But my sister, Celia, and I used to watch it. It was the only thing we both liked.  Most TV is so intellectually stunted and corporatized.  But The Simpsons is post-modern and counter-cultural.”

“Not too mention funny,” said Will.

“Well, that too,” she said.  “Maybe I’ll tell Teddy we should get a TV just for that.  I bet he’d like it.”

“No he wouldn’t,” said Will, smiling.  The waitress approached and Will ordered a coffee and brownie.

“So, how’s Chicago treating you so far?” Brooke asked.

“It’s good,” Will said.  “Good and cold.  I mean, San Francisco isn’t warm like you think California is.  But this is a different kind of cold then I’m used to.”

“Will,” Brooke laughed. “This isn’t cold. It’s in the 40s for god’s sake.  This is just jacket weather.  Give it a while.  It’s not really cold until you have frozen snot on your scarf.”

“Nice,” said Will, laughing.  “So glad I have something to look forward to.”

“Well, I’m weird,” said Brooke.  “I kind of like the winter.  It’s so cozy when you’re inside and the snow can be pretty.  And fun.  I remember when I was 10 or so, there was this fierce blizzard that shut the whole city down.  My parents couldn’t go to work, and school was canceled for like a week. It was great!  It snowed so much that my sister and I opened a window from the second floor and slid down a snow drift to go out and play.”

“How’d you get back in,” Will asked, fascinated.

“Through the front door, dummy,” said Brooke, with a snort.  “It was drifting, not 15 feet deep.”

“I’ve never seen a snow like that,” said Will.  “I’m kind of excited about it.”

“It’s pretty enough at first,” said Brooke.  “You almost don’t mind what a pain in the ass it is.  Well, I 
don’t mind what a pain in the ass it is.  Normal people do.”

Will bit into his brownie.  “Are your parents still in Chicago?” he asked.

“My mother died not too long after that blizzard,” said Brooke.  “My father lives in the suburbs with his new wife and kids.”

“Are you close to them?” Will asked.

“Not really,” she said.  “My mother died when I was in 8th grade and Dad was just kind of …gone after that.”

“My mother died when I was young too,” said Will.

In the warm coffee shop, with the snow beginning to flurry outside, the two found themselves bonding over shared experiences.

Brooke told Will about coming into the kitchen after her mother died and seeing her father just standing there with a cereal box in his hand, confused about what to do next.  How she’d had to take the box from him and make him a bowl of cereal. And then, somehow, he met this woman and moved off to Naperville with her.  Brooke and Celia stayed in their Rogers Park apartment.  Brooke thought it all sounded a lot sadder than it was.  Their father loved them a lot, but just wasn’t equipped to parent on his own. And she and Celia were pretty good at taking care of each other.

Will told Brooke how his mother was sick for such a long time before she died.  She was a free spirit hippie-type with a huge group of like-minded hippie friends.  Whenever she got sick and had to go to the hospital, Will went to stay with one of them.  They’d feel sorry for the kid with the sick, dying mother and let him do whatever he wanted.  He told Brooke that he could eat pizza for dinner every night and watch whatever he wanted on TV so it got to where he almost looked forward to his mother’s trips to the hospital.  “It was all pepperoni pizza and Sanford and Sons reruns,” he said. “It was fun and then I’d feel guilty because it was fun.”

“I was happy when Dad moved out,” said Brooke.  “He was so sad that we always felt mean not to be that sad too. And then I felt guilty that I was glad to see him go.”

The two sat silently, sipping coffee, remembering sad, guilty things.

“Well,” said Will.  “This is a cheery conversation we’re having.”

“I know,” said Brooke.  “I don’t normally talk about this kind of stuff.  I’m not even sure Teddy knows about it, can you believe that?”

“Actually,” said Will.  “I can.”

“Oh, lay off Teddy,” said Brooke.  “Let’s talk about something else.  Tell me about your political future.”

“Well, you know we have a little family history with it,” said Will.  “And Chicago politics are so fascinating.  It just seems like a good place to be.”

“I wish there were some political cure for the shit we do to the environment,” said Brooke.

“That’s the only cure,” said Will.  “The only real change will come when you get it legislated.  You should be spending your time lobbying congress about this, not curled up in dusty old research with Teddy.”

“But Teddy’s work will be the thing that makes the change,” said Brooke. 

“No it won’t,” said Will.

“It will,” said Brooke. “It has to.”

She left a little while after that and headed home.  Will stayed at the coffee shop for a while longer, leafing through The Reader and thinking about Brooke.  She was beautiful and smart and she seemed like a nice person. What the hell was she doing with Teddy?

Then he landed on a classified ad looking for a bass player.  Maybe he could do that to fill in the time while he waited for his political future to begin.

Brooke made a roasted chicken with mashed potatoes and broccoli au gratin for dinner. It was Teddy’s favorite.  When he got back from the library, the table was set and wonderful smells were coming from the kitchen.  Teddy sat down and smiled, accepting Brooke’s tacit apology.

I know. 

Why on earth is Brooke apologizing when Teddy is clearly in the wrong here?  He’s rude and demeaning and cannot be bothered to take even the most cursory interest in Brooke’s life.  He hasn’t even bothered to learn the sad story of her dead mother and absent father.

But that’s who Teddy is.  Teddy has constructed a narrow world, fooled himself into thinking it vast, and lost the inclination for inquiry into the lives of others.

Brooke, on the other hand, found the world (especially the part with people in it) threateningly vast and was willing to bend to his manipulation.  Teddy would change the world and in doing so, Teddy would shore her up.   So long as Teddy takes her with him, she can admit her own weakness, forgive him his, and move on.

Of course, Teddy was sure the world was about to end and it was none of his fault.  He collected evidence of its imminent demise the way other people collect butterflies, pinning buggy corpses onto cardboard for no other reason than because he can.

Don’t worry.  Eventually Brooke will figure all this out.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

That's Actually Miss Chanandler Bong

Let's talk, white people.

Likely like you, I am a white person.  I am so white sometimes I find myself thinking, "Could I be any whiter?"  This is because  I am so white I phrase my rhetorical questions a la Chandler Bing.   I am old and white.  I was brought up among white people.  I am married to a white person.  Many of my close friends are white people.  My daughter is a white person.  My white person bona fides are within expected parameters.  I really like Friends.  I am one of your people.  This is what we're like:

As a fellow white person, I'm reaching out to beg you, for the love of all that is good and holy on earth, please stop sharing posts on social media of black people scolding other black people for their behavior.  

You are not the intended audience when a black person writes a post or makes a video blaming black bad actors for increasing American systemic inequality.  When Bill Cosby scolded black people at that NAACP meeting a million years ago he was talking to other black people.  Not. You.  This is why he made that speech at an NAACP meeting and not while accepting an Emmy on behalf of Courtney Cox.* You are not part of this discussion.

Your opinion on the level of responsibility the sagginess of young black men's pants bears for self-evident racial inequality in this country is moo.

The prime directive for white people in discussions of racism is to quiet down and listen to people of color because they know more than we do, my fellow Nillas.  Just:

So when you get the urge to hide behind a video or baldly cobbled together post by some black person who is clearly not talking to you in order to accuse black people for being more responsible for racism in America than white people, you should probably do this instead.

That was funny, right?  No?  You didn't care for Friends.  Fine.

*Courtney Cox never won an Emmy for Friends.  

Saturday, August 23, 2014

The March, Chapter 25: Fred's In Trouble

Chapter 24

Large Man with Dead Body: Who's that then?
The Dead Collector: I dunno, must be a king.
Large Man with Dead Body: Why?
The Dead Collector: He hasn't got shit all over him.

-        Monty Python and the Holy Grail

Fred was in trouble.  When he left school last May, Bulstrode had told him, “No more money until you’re back in school.  None, young man. Not one thin dime!”  So, Fred had cashed a bond and lived off that as well as a credit card his father was unaware of.  But a few weeks ago, Bulstrode had exploded after reading the credit card statement and canceled it.  So Fred, on the verge of broke, had attempted to turn things around by playing the ponies.  As is so often the case, this started off well and then began heading rapidly downhill.  On the verge of burning through all his bond cash, he decided to mix it up a little and started making baseball bets.  That’s when things got really bad.
He was into his bookie for $5000 and had no idea of where to get it.  His father would bluster and stomp and tell Fred “we reap what we sow” and “no one ever bailed me out” and then refuse to give him the money.  His mother was under strict orders not to give Fred money. She’d sneak him some cash here and there, but five thousand was more than she could get away with under the wire.
Fucking Cubs!  If it weren’t for the fucking Cubs he’d have won his last parley.

He had one hope.  It was his 25th birthday and he’d told his mother he wanted cash.  She assured him she’d pry open his father’s tight fist.  He probably wouldn’t get enough money to make good on his debt, but it might be enough to buy him an extension.

Susan had arranged a birthday dinner for the three of them at Poise (one of L.G.E.’s posher presentations) to celebrate.  Rosie had declined an invitation to join, claiming pressing social obligations.  All Rosie’s social obligations were pressing.  This sucked for Fred, though, since it meant their father would be in a bad mood.  On the other hand, at least Tré wouldn’t be there for Fred to suffer in comparison to.

Fred did his best at dinner.  Bulstrode was preoccupied and crabby about something.  But Fred tried to weasel his way into good graces by being sweet and solicitous to his mother.  He extolled the virtues of the food and talked about how great the ambience was.  He was gratifyingly curious about the rebrand and the state of the business.  And congratulated his father full-throatedly for his imminent ascendance to the 4th Presbyterian Board.

During dessert and cognac, Bulstrode handed Fred an envelope from across the table.  “You wanted cash,” he said.  “So that’s what you got.  Although, I don’t know what you need cash for, living like you do.”

Susan laughed her merry laugh.  “Young people always need cash, Bully,” she said.  “You were always short of cash when we started running around together, remember?”

“I guess I was,” said Bulstrode, smiling (and sweating) a little.

Fred opened the envelope carefully, pinning all his hopes on his father’s slim generosity.  Inside the envelope were five crisp hundred dollar bills.  Not nearly enough.  Disappointment registered on his face. 

“So,” Bulstrode said, seething.  “Five hundred dollars isn’t enough for you?”

“I’m sorry, Dad,” said Fred.  “It wasn’t the money.  The money is great!  Thanks so much.  It’s just …. something I ate disagreed with me a little.  This is really terrific of you.  Thank you so much!”

But it was too late.  Bulstrode threw his napkin on the table and muttered, “I wish that girl at The March would take pity on you,” he said disgustedly.  “She’s probably the only one who could straighten you out.”

Don’t let it surprise you that Bulstrode knows about Fred’s crush on Mary. Bulstrode has a real flair for recognizing the use that another person can be to him.  This Lightweight Empire, after all, isn’t built on bricks and booze alone.

Bulstrode glowered and Fred suffered.  After five minutes of a silence so tense not even Susan could break it up, Bulstrode left the table to speak to the manager about some issue he’d had with the menu or the service or anything that would restore his sense of being In Charge.  Fred tried to avoid digging himself into an even deeper hole by handing four of the bills to his mother and asking her to keep it safe for him.  Susan pocketed the four hundred dollars and told Fred she’d keep it safe for him.

They left, Fred shaking his father’s hand and saying, “Really, Dad.  Thank you so much for the great meal and money.”

Bulstrode nodded briskly and then handed his valet check to the hostess.

Fred left after kissing his mother on the cheek.

Fred took his $100 to Sidetracks.  There he bought himself a beer, tipped $2 and then promptly lost the remaining $95 on horses who would not run as they ought.

Fred was in trouble.

He decided to go to The March, where he was sure he could count on Caleb to stake him to a drink.  

He could use one.

Fred sat down at the bar and asked Caleb for a beer.  “I’m broke, though,” he said.  “Can you spot me one?”

“What kind of a manager would I be,” asked Caleb, opening a Budweiser and placing it on a napkin in front of Fred.  “If I begrudged the owner’s son a beer or two.”

Fred smiled and sipped his beer.  “All things being equal, Caleb, I’m pretty sure Dad is more interested in keeping you happy than in keeping me happy.  But so long as you’re in a generous mood, how about a shot of whiskey too?”

Caleb poured himself and Fred one.  They clinked and drained them and then quietly watched the sports score crawl on ESPN together.

“Fucking Cubs,” said Fred, despondently.

“Yep,” said Caleb.  “I think the official name change goes through next week: The Chicago Fucking Cubs.”

“Mary working tomorrow?” asked Fred.

“Every weekday,” said Caleb, grinning.  “Same as the last two years.”

Fred smiled a little goofily and thought about Mary.  He decided to bring her some good coffee the next morning.  He’d go home now, get a good night’s sleep, and start off his morning with Mary tomorrow.  Then he’d take his $400 to his bookie, Wayne.  He’d give him the money and tell him there would be more coming.  He could get a job or sell something.  He just needed to relax.  He just needed a little perspective.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Breaking in For a Little Light Mommy Blogging

Situation normal at Casa de Bon: we broke, broke, broke.  There are no ducats in the coffer.  We owe our soul to the company store. Etc.  But one of the nice things about living where we do is that we're a quick trot to the beach, which is the very best Chicago has to offer in absolutely free entertainment.

I love going to the beach.  I always have.  Growing up, we took a trip to Florida every year.  Lake Michigan beaches are not like those.  The sand is rocky and it's not hard to find trash.  No matter how capacious the lake, it's still a lake and has lake smells. And there will always be Eastern European types feeding the seagulls (OH MY GOD STOP FEEDING THE GODDAMN SEAGULLS. THEY NEVER GO AWAY IF YOU FEED THEM). Also a bunch of dudes wearing speedos.  I cannot get on board with the speedo unless you're built like David Beckham or something.  Speedos make me giggle.  Today I saw a dad and his 10 yr old son in matching speedos.  This is not an unfamiliar sight at a Rogers Park beach.

But I love it.  I can sit there in my chair, listening to the sounds of conversation around me, kids playing, waves lapping. I love our city beaches where all the groups are strangers to each other, but perfectly friendly (unless you're feeding the damn seagulls).  There's something about a beach that makes you feel part of a whole. It's hard not to feel accepted, at peace with the world from a beach.  It works like a tonic on me.

I watched Laney in the water talking to her friend and thought of my own childhood trips to the beach with my best friend and how much fun it was.  I felt really happy for Laney to have such a good friend.

But then suddenly, out of nowhere, I found myself pining for toddler Laney.  A Laney I could scoop up into my arms and twirl around; a Laney who was all mine.

But only for a second.  Because after that brief second….

Wait!  I want to tell you another story first.  On my wedding day, I was standing in the back of the church and I was straight up freaking up.  My dad was standing next to me utterly unaware of my freakout because I was marrying a nice guy in a Catholic church and so all was right in his world. I started to feel a little like I could turn around and walk out the door.  All those people!  My dress was a little tight and I wasn't sure I could stand up under the scrutiny. And then I looked down and saw Don and thought to myself, "Eye on the prize, Rhem.  Keep your eye on the prize."  And I walked down the aisle with, I dare say, quite a bit of élan.

I remember that so clearly because it was a moment of such startling clarity.  I think I've had maybe two or three of those in my life.

I had a moment of startling, crystal clarity hard on the heels of that small moment of pining for Laney's distant toddler-hood.  I thought, "Oh, god, I got to do that! I get to do this!"  And I felt enormously grateful.

Just for a brief moment today, despite being broke and the damn seagulls and all the other little things that make me crazy, I felt fully the privilege of my life, the beaches and Don and getting to be this little girl's mother.  And I felt absolutely at peace.

And then some guy in a speedo threw part of his sandwich to a seagull so I murdered him.  Anyone got bail money?

The March, Chapter 24: Heavy Things Happen in the Lightweight Offices

Chapter 23

Let me explain.  No, there is too much.  Let me summarize.
-Princess Bride

“You told Ellinore Ladislaw that you’d find her daughter,” said Rafferty, all these many years later as they sat in Bulstrode’s office.  “You told her you’d find her daughter and give her the money left over after she croaked.”

“She died, Raff!” said Bulstrode.  “Ellinore died before I could find her daughter!”

“You didn’t look too hard, though, did you, Bully” asked Rafferty, leaning back coolly.  “You kept that girl’s money and used it to buy more bars and set yourself up real good, didn’t you?”

“What do you know about it?” asked Bulstrode fiercely.  “You were so high you didn’t know what was going on!  You were dealing dope out of my bar!  You could have cost me everything!”

“Funny about that,” said Rafferty, still cool.  “I did sell a little coke now and again, just to augment my meager income.  Lord knows you could never see your way to paying me a decent salary even though we were such good pals.  But I never dealt out of The March.  And when the cops showed up that day, it was almost like they knew what they’d find…”

“You were obvious,” retorted Bulstrode.  “Everyone knew. If you’d…”

Oh, this dialog is clumsy and expository!  This is not the conversation Bulstrode and Rafferty had.  I am attempting to augment their conversation in order to mete out details which only they and I are privy to. But it is cumbersome and inelegant. And what, after all, is the point of all this third party omniscience if one cannot simply narrate?  So…

On her deathbed, Ellinore Ladislaw asked Bulstrode to find her estranged daughter, Althea (Will’s mother), who was off living the hippie life in San Francisco.  Ellinore was desperate to reach her daughter, to make amends and to settle her estate.  She wanted to die knowing that her daughter knew how much she loved her.  But, besotted as she was, she made the tactical error of appointing Bulstrode as the executor of her estate. Thus, Althea was never found and somehow Ellinore’s money, almost incidentally, found a home in Bulstrode’s business endeavors.

Our man, Rafferty recognized that something here failed the sniff test and made sure, via frequent and un-subtle comments, that Bulstrode knew that Rafferty smelled something rotten.  In between snide comments, Rafferty snorted some cocaine, angled for bar and management shifts, and found himself running with a worse and worse crowd.  And then one day he was arrested at The March by a cop who knew exactly where to find his cocaine.  And then a man Rafferty didn't recall ever meeting swore under oath that Rafferty had offered to sell him cocaine at the bar.  And then he went away to serve a 15-year sentence for drug trafficking.

And that’s where we are now.  So, exposition exposited, let’s return to the tense scene unfolding between Rafferty and Bulstrode:

“Ellinore Ladislaw is dead,” said Rafferty.  “And so is her daughter.  But I’m still here and I want what’s coming to me.”

“I owe you nothing,” said Bulstrode.  “I had nothing to do with your criminal activities or your arrest.  You made your own bed.”

“Yeah, well, I’m not so sure about that,” said Rafferty.  “I think you owe me. So what do you think, how about a job?  It’s hard to get steady employment out of the joint. I want one of those Chicago-style jobs that’s all paycheck and no work.”

“Why would I do that?” asked Bulstrode.

“Be smart, Bully,” said Rafferty. “I’d hate to end up chatting with your wife.   She was hanging around then. She’ll remember Ellinore Ladislaw.  She’ll be interested to know who else you were fucking when you were dating her.”

“Leave Susan out of this!” said Bulstrode.

Bulstrode wanted desperately to turn back the clock, lock the door and keep Rafferty out of his life.  He wished he could go back in time and stand before the parole board and let them know what a dangerous felon Rafferty was.  He wish he could blink hard and Rafferty would suddenly disappear,

But, he knew he could do none of those things.

“It makes my flesh crawl to think of letting a lowlife like you blackmail me,” Bulstrode said at last. “But I’ll write you a check right now if you swear to disappear with it. What will it cost me to get you out of my life?”

“I don’t think you have the scratch to get rid of me forever,” said Raff.  “But for five thousand bucks, I’ll disappear for a while.”

And thus, an unhappy deal was struck.  Bulstrode wrote the check and Rafferty left the building.

Everything in Bulstrode’s life has just suddenly gone to shit and he had a dinner party to go to.  Fred was turning twenty-five.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Chapter 23: The March: Flashback!

Summary 1-22
Chapter 22

Stop wasting my time.
You know what I want.
You know what I need.
Or maybe you don’t.
 Do I have to come right flat out and tell you everything?
 Gimme some money! Gimme some money!
-        Spinal Tap

The time has come to leave our young (and not-so-young) lovers for a bit and spend a little time with our friend, James Bulstrode.    All our stories will collide a bit down the road thanks to the re-emergence of a man from Bulstrode’s distant past.  And I think I’ve hinted around at this past for quite long enough. 

So, let’s leave Tré and Rosie looking gorgeous and sipping cocktails at some fabulous club.  Let’s leave Brooke listening raptly as Teddy expounds upon some depressing topic or another. Fred is pining for Mary.  Celia and Gio are lying on the couch, legs and arms entwined, watching Animaniacs.  And Will will have to remain a cipher as we are head into the Lightweight Group offices to pay a visit to Bully.  He generally thinks of himself as “Bully” when he’s in a good mood.  And he’s in a really good mood.

Just that morning, the long awaited phone call from an elder at Fourth Presbyterian had come with an invitation to coffee.  His nomination to the session was imminent. In the meantime, his protégé, Tré, was developing a solid plan and soon the rebrand of the Lightweight Group would begin.  By this time next year, his picture would be showing up in newspapers.  By this time the following year, his name would be gracing one of those blue honorary street sign.

He was interrupted from happy imaginings of Bulstrode Boulevard when a most unwelcome visitor entered the L.G.E. offices: a skinny, rat-faced, greasy-haired, middle-aged man by the name of Karl Rafferty who wore hard living and resentment like a weathered old suit; uncomfortable and poorly fit, but all he had.  The second Bulstrode saw him, his carefully constructed persona started to pop and peel away like paint beneath turpentine. 

“Hiya, Bully,” the skinny man said, in a hard, flat Chicago accent.

“Rafferty,” Bulstrode whispered, suddenly afraid.

His past was roaring up all around him.


In 1965, the year where it all began, Bultrode worked as a bartender at The March and was not as you know him now.

Back then, Bully was the not only the kind of guy who went to see The Beatles at Sox Park; he was the kind of guy who saw something in that show that made him stop cutting his hair.  He was charming, bordering on rakish.  He smiled all the time.  He flirted.  He was the kind of man that other men liked and that women liked.  He was cool.  

He was a great bartender.

If this were one of his shifts, you’d find him grinning knowingly at someone from behind the bar.  Wearing a starched white shirt, with the sleeves rolled up, a skinny tie tucked into black pants, he mixed sidecars and old fashioneds, grabbing bottles confidently and pouring without looking.  He flirted with the girls and jollied up the guys.  He was quick with a light and a chuckle.  He grinned and flirted and mixed drinks and sang along to You Lost That Loving Feeling and did all he could to make people like him. 

He was nice enough to the down-on-his-heels barback named Karl Rafferty.  So long as Karl did the dishes and kept the beer stocked, Bully was friendly.

His regulars loved him.  “Hey, Lightweight,” they’d say.  “Pour us another one!”

They called him “Lightweight” because of a counterfeit he’d worked one night while in front of rather than behind the bar.  You see, Bully never drank to excess.  He never lost control.  But on the night of this counterfeit, he’d found himself in front of the bar rather than behind it, and The March regulars were determined to drink with him.  Everyone wanted to buy him something.  So Bully decided to fake inebriation as a defense against the drunken insistences of his sometime patrons.  After two beers, he affected a slight slur.  After three, he reeled a bit.  His regulars thought it was hilarious that this fellow who mixed drinks so expertly was so inexpert at handling them.  They found his low tolerance charming and ingratiating.  They loved him even more.  They loved calling him “Lightweight.”

The March, thanks in no small part to Bully’s ample bartending talents, was the most popular bar in the neighborhood.  And this neighborhood made up the lion’s share of a ward that a certain bookish native son with family money and good pedigree hoped to represent as alderman.

And thus it was that Judge Charles Ladislaw, Teddy’s uncle and Will’s grandfather, made the fateful decision to host a fundraiser at The March.  Well, rather, the decision was made for him.  Judge Ladislaw was running for alderman out of a sense of weary obligation, having fielded countless appeals from would be political players who had money and connections but lacked the sterling Ladislaw reputation and family name.  They planned to put him out in front.  They planned for him to be mayor.

The party was scheduled and various city bigwigs and monied interests were invited.  Judge Ladislaw kicked off his campaign at The March.  Everyone who mattered was there.

The Judge arrived with his wife, Ellinore, an hour or so before the party was due to begin.  He was quickly enveloped by advisors, eager to coach him through the list of the people whom he should be careful to engage and those he should avoid. Platforms and projects were delineated; talking points were honed.

That’s when Ellinore, bored, made her way to the bar.

Ellinore was a pretty woman, but fadingly so and prone to tempering her loneliness with a kind of calculated blowsiness.  She smiled a wry smile at Bully and asked him for a Gibson. As he mixed it, she pulled out her cigarette case and adjusted the strap of her dress as it slipped down over her shoulder.  Of course, her dress strap had slipped down over her shoulder.  It always did.  Bulstrode smiled warmly and allowed a heavier than normal pour of gin.  He liked the way her dress strap slipped down her arm.

“So,” he said, setting the drink in front of her and lighting her cigarette.  “What’s a nice girl like you doing mixed up with Chicago politics?”

Ellinore laughed and her husband’s people shot her a warning look.  They were worried about Ellinore and had entreated her husband to speak to her about her behavior at the party.  He was to urge her to keep to a two drink maximum.  But this was a distasteful a prospect for Judge Ladislaw.  He was content to leave Ellinore to her own devices while he was handled by the grasping crowd that he’d somehow let take over his life.

If he’d had his druthers, Ladislaw would have passed this time sitting quietly in his study reading Gibbon or Homer and sipping a brandy.  But somehow he’d gotten caught up in this and now it was something that would just have to be done.  Eventually the night would end and he could go home.

Ellinore was happy, though, to be out, passing the time with this handsome young man and his ridiculous haircut.

“Everything is politics,” she said.  “Surely you know that. Bartenders know everything.  Ipso facto, you know that everything is politics.  We’re all just part of the machine.”

 “Not everyone,” he said gently.  “Not everything.”

The March was hazy with calculation and machination, and it’s hard to know if Bully was being genuine.  But I think he probably was.  There was something about Ellinore that made him sad.  At that moment, when it seemed like the rest of the room was busy either ignoring or tolerating pretty, blowsy Ellinore, he might not have been looking at her as a mark.  At least initially, I think Ellinore engaged in Bully a kind of lingering capacity for kindness. 

Ellinore was so surprised by his gentle response that she was momentarily at a loss for words.  She looked at him over the rim of her glass and found him looking right back at her.

A young man interrupted their moment when he walked up behind her and planted a dry kiss on her cheek.  “I’m here, Aunt Ellinore,” said a very young Teddy.  “As requested.”

“Hello, Teddy,” she said.  “And it was your mother who ordered this command performance, not I.”

“Well, Mother thinks it’s important that I be involved in family business,” said Teddy.  “Since Grandfather died, I’m sort of the paterfamilias.”

“Yes,” said Ellinore.  “Sure.  Now just… have a drink or something.”

“I’d like a draft of beer, please,” said Teddy, without looking at Bulstrode.  He took a seat at the far end of the bar, pulled a book from his pocket, and opened it.  Bully grinned at Teddy’s poorly managed pomposity and drew the beer.  Ellinore smiled.

As the party went on, Ellinore did a modicum of wifely duty.  She smiled when introduced, hooked her arm through her husband’s affectionately, made plans to meet political wives for tea at The Drake, and kept her blowsiness to a minimum.  But she glanced at the bar every so often.  And when she did, and Bulstrode noticed, he smiled back at her, cheerfully conspiratorial.  Ellinore was delighted.

It didn’t take much past that for the affair to begin. 

A few nights later, Ellinore stopped in on her own and plans were shortly made for a liaison at Bulstrode’s tiny apartment.

The affair went on for years.  The longer it went on, the more besotted Ellinore became.  It was she who loaned Bulstrode the money to buy The March.  And The March continued to make money under his ownership.  Bulstrode moved from behind the bar and started spending more time in the office than the front of the room.  After a bit, he borrowed more money from Ellinore and combined that with his March profits and bought another restaurant. Ellinore used her husband’s political connections to grease the wheels for liquor licenses and zoning approvals.

And during those heady years of property accrual and infidelity, Judge Charles Ladislaw died suddenly of a heart attack.

And then Ellinore got sick.

And Bulstrode got a lot more restaurants.

And Karl Rafferty, who’d been there the whole time, went to jail.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

A Quick Story

Like a lot of you, I've been glued to social media watching the events transpire in Ferguson and it reminds me of something that happened 25 years ago.

I was 19 years old and it was the start of the sophomore year at Loyola.  There was a liquor store on Granville that would accept my incredibly lame fake ID.  It was nighttime, maybe 10:00 or so, and a girlfriend and I walked to the liquor store to buy a 12 pack of beer.  On the way out, a black guy in his 20s stopped me and asked me to help him do the clasp on his necklace.  I was a little squiffy, and happy to be grown up and living in my own apartment, and exactly in the mood to spread the good will.   I handed the 12 pack to my friend and did the clasp on his necklace.  While I was doing it he joked with me and his friend about how mad his girlfriend would be if he weren't wearing the necklace.  Apparently, if he weren't wearing it, his girlfriend would think he was cheating.  I struggled a bit with the clasp and wondered if his girlfriend were paranoid or if she just knew him really well.  It could have gone either way, really.

I got the clasp done.  He said "thanks."  And we parted ways.

After just a few steps, I heard a voice yelling, "Hey, Leroy!"  I ignored it since my name's not Leroy.  Another, "Hey, Leroy!  Stop!"  Then I heard the guy who I'd just helped with the clasp say, "My name's not Leroy."

When I looked around the guy was being cuffed on the hood of the police car.

Now, it could have been that the guy was guilty of something and the cop knew.  But, come on.  That guy was guilty of talking to a 19 year old white girl while being black.

I'm not proud of myself for walking away.  I should have had the guts to say something.  But I was 19 and I was, in fact, breaking the law with my illegally purchased 12 pack.  And I'm kind of a coward anyway.

This happened 25 years ago.  There are some kinds of racism that we don't see anymore.  I think of Forrest Whittaker's character in Fast Times or, I don't know, separate water fountains.  But even though we put a black guy in the white house,  this kind of random arrest is likely so common as to be banal for your average black male youth.

You're living in a state of evilly willful ignorance if you don't accept that "serve and protect" might feel a little ironic to a chunk of America. And I don't even get how so many white Americans seem bound and determined to blame black people for their own victimization.

I know that there are a lot of good cops out there; a lot of good people who do serve and protect. And I know that this is a hard job.  But the assumption of black male criminality runs rampant throughout American society and when it comes in tandem with the kind of authority the police have it becomes an excellent tool to delegitimize the citizenship of a chunk of Americans.  

I read this story about Ezell Ford, an unarmed 25 year old killed by the police Monday:

It was unknown if the "suspect" had any gang affiliations, police said in the news report.

We don't know that he had gang affiliations but he *could* have! It's important that we note that, right?

I guess that guy who was worried about his jealous girlfriend 25 years ago should feel lucky he only got arrested.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

The March, the Story So Far

This is a weird way to put your novel out - sticking chapters in here and there into a personal blog. But, let me just be clear: I spent five years on this thing and I have got GOT to get it out of my face.  Right now it's like a 26 year old kid who's still living at home, sleeping until noon and texting me in the middle of a work day asking me to bring home Cheetos.  I love this kid, but I am sick to death of her.

So, I figured if I just put it out there, I would be done with it. This way I can continue telling myself that if only I'd figured out how to start the damn thing right or been a little more aggressive about trying to get it published, maybe I would.  But now it is Out In The World, paying its own rent, buying its own Cheetos.

But, I also get this that it might be hard to keep up with what's happening.  So every 10 chapters or so, I'll publish a "The Story So Far."  I'm 12 chapters behind.  Forgive me.  I am nothing if not less-than-diligent.

So, here we go:

Brooke Dotry is our main character.  She's a self-righteous and ineffective environmental warrior.  She's recently graduated from college and was, until recently, living with her sister, Celia, in a Wrigleyville flat.

They have a fairly sad backstory.  Their mother died before the girls started high school.  Their father collapsed into grief and then met another woman, married her and moved to the suburbs. He left Celia and Brooke living on their own in a Rogers Park apartment through high school. Thus, the girls are very attached to each other.

They live across the hall from a fellow named Gio who began this story with a mad crush on Brooke but who has, since then, entered into a relationship with Celia.  Gio and Celia are getting along gangbusters.

Gio has helped Brooke get a job at the bar where he works.  The bar is called The March (hence the name).  Once there, Brooke met a man named Teddy Causobon. Teddy is a fifty-something guy who's never held a job, instead spending all his days working a compendium of man's environmental neglect and abuse.  Teddy is horrible.

Brooke has managed to fall in love with Teddy and has since moved in with him.  Because she's naive and kind of dumb.  She's completely fallen for this dude and he's horrible.  Celia is really unhappy about it.  Actually, all our characters think it's pretty messed up.

The March is owned by a fellow named Bulstrode.  Bulstrode owns a whole slew of bars.  His son, Fred, is something of a dissolute - hitting the bars and living on credit cards because he's not ready to grow up and doesn't really know what he wants to be when he does.  His plan is to go to law school in order to appease his father.  He's also started doing a little light gambling since he's pretty sure his dad is gonna cut him off at any point.

Fred is in love with Mary, who is in law school because she wants to be.  Mary has big plans for her future.  As such, she's decided to spare no time to Fred unless he gets his shit together. Mary tends bar during the day at The March where her father, Caleb, works as the general manager.  Caleb's a stable guy and is something of a father-figure to his staff.

Bulstrode's daughter is named Rosie.  Rosie is super mega- hot and has big plans to be famous in some capacity.   She hasn't quite worked out how.  She's recently entered into a relationship with Tre Little, who is heading a project for Bulstrode to rebrand and cohere all his holdings.  Bulstrode is hoping to dust off some of the seediness of his past.  Tre entered the story with a laser-like focus on his work, but is starting to enjoy living the high life with Rosie more than may be financially advisable.  Rosie is my favorite character. I really like her.

In the last chapter I published, we meet Will.  Will is a Teddy's second cousin.  Teddy's mother and her sister owned the schmancy apartment that Teddy now owns (and where Brooke now lives).  The sister, Ellinore, had a husband who held one term as an alderman and a daughter named Althea.  Althea fled Chicago for reasons which have not yet been established and had Will.  Will's just come back to Chicago because he wants to break into politics. So far, he's kind of a jerky cipher but some shit's coming down the pipe with Will and Brooke.  It's pretty romantic.

And that's the story so far.  :)

Chapter 22, The March: Brooke Meets Will

Chapter 21

So, Lone Star, now you see that evil will always triumph because good is dumb.
-        Spaceballs

After a while of this, Caleb decided to give Rosie’s night shifts to Brooke and move Rosie to DJ on Friday and Saturday night.  He needed a waitress who’d show up on time and work until he decided she was through.  Rosie was still reliable enough on Friday and Saturday nights as, apparently, the fabulous people did not deign to nightclub amongst the working folk on weekend nights.  And Caleb had to admit she did a pretty great job as a weekend night DJ.  She knew how to keep the room at a hum without overwhelming it. She could banter the most recalcitrant group right into pleasant party people mode.  And she seemed to like it.  And Caleb liked for his staff to like what they were doing.

As for Brooke, she was glad to get those shifts.  She’d had to leave Teddy’s at 4:00 to make her cocktail hour shifts and Teddy was usually right in the middle of things then.  It was such a distraction for him when she packed up to leave!

Brooke moved into her late night shifts, and her routine with Teddy shifted into a more convenient pattern.  Awake at 9:30, they’d meet in the kitchen for coffee and toast.  Brooke did the dishes and swept up the kitchen while Teddy retired to his bathroom to prepare for the day (this is Teddy’s euphemism, not mine).  For the rest of the morning, they worked on compiling notes; with Teddy reading and adding to them, pontificating amply and portentously as to his discoveries. Brooke filed them away according to a system they’d developed.  At around 1:00, Brooke left to make sandwiches for lunch. 

In the afternoons, Teddy traveled to various libraries to further research man’s imminent and self-inflicted extinction, while Brooke managed the domestic side of things; shopping, cleaning, laundry, cooking, etc.  When Teddy returned at around 6:30, they had dinner and then left together for The March.  If it was a slow, Teddy might wait until Brooke was cut and would escort her home.  But, more often than not, he left around midnight while Brooke was still in the middle of her shift.  She usually made it home by 2:30 or 3:00, though.

On nights Brooke didn’t work, there was some deviation from routine.  They might sit together in the living room, reading various indictments of man’s criminal assault on his environment.  Sometimes they went out to eat.  Occasionally, they had sex.

Celia had relaxed her anti-Teddy position somewhat.  Gio had urged her to give Brooke a call, reminding her that family was family no matter how much you hated family’s boyfriend.  And he knew she was missing Brooke.  So Celia had taken to calling Brooke here and there, and even dropping in from time to time during Brooke’s domestic hours (always making sure to be gone before Teddy came home).

Celia was still unhappy with the relationship, but knew that Brooke would see it through to the end.  And everyone but Brooke knew that it would end.  They talked mostly about Celia’s life, since Brooke’s whole life was Teddy. So they chatted about Celia’s last year of school. Celia told funny stories about her life in retail. They talked about Gio.  Brooke was happy that Celia and Gio were together.  She’d only disliked Gio as he sought out a relationship with her.  He was fine for Celia (oh, Brooke…).

They chatted.  They had small talk.  Small talk, as you may know, requires great social adroitness and serves a vital social function: it carves out a place which later, when trust and comfort are gained or restored, can be filled with… I don’t know, let’s call it Big Talk.  Talk about important and personal things.  For Brooke and Celia, who don’t quite trust each other right now, small talk makes a warm, tidy space for Big Talk once they attain full restoration of their sisterly closeness.

At this juncture in their relationship, Celia and Brooke were getting along, lightly.

Brooke didn’t spend too much time, though, missing the Big Talk with Celia.  She was too busy as amanuensis and muse and maid and cook and lover. She was everything that Teddy needed. Teddy was engaged in a great work and Brooke was thrilled to be playing such a pivotal role.  She expected to feel completely satisfied any day now, just as soon as she grew into everything.


One chilly afternoon near the end of Chicago’s brief fall, Brooke returned from the grocery store to find Teddy at home, sitting stiffly in the living room, looking disapprovingly at a handsome, sullen young man, standing equally as stiffly by the fireplace.

“Hello,” said Brooke, setting her parcels on the floor.

“Hello, Brooke,” said Teddy.  “Allow me to introduce my second cousin, Will, who has just arrived from San Francisco.”

“Oh,” said Brooke, smiling and crossing the room to shake his hand.  “Hi!”

Will shook her hand, surprised at how young and pretty she was.  Well, he thought, there seems to be more going on here than intellectual romance. He sneered a little as he shook her hand.

“Welcome to Chicago,” Brooke said, as she sat down next to Teddy. “You came at the perfect time. It’ll be subarctic in a few weeks.”

“I’m sure I’ll be fine,” said Will, as cold as a Chicago February. 

“Will plans to go into politics,” said Teddy suddenly, derision dripping from his voice.  “Chicago is evidently the place for that.”

“Teddy thinks politics are beneath him,” said Will, matching Teddy’s derision.  “Apparently, though, they aren’t beneath me.  It’s in my blood.  It seems that I’m not too noble for early and often politicking.”

“I'm afraid I don't know what that is” said Brooke, a little uncomfortable.

“Vote early and often,” said Teddy.  “It’s an old cliché about the sleaziness of Chicago politics.  All politics are sleazy though, not just Chicago ones.  It’s beyond me how anyone could want to be part of it.”

Brooke was a little embarrassed at Teddy’s rudeness. “I’ve always wanted to understand politics better,” she said.  “But I just never got it.  I was always too involved in organizing at the grassroots to be involved in the establishment.  I’ve probably been missing something.”

Will narrowed his eyes at Brooke.  She seemed free of guile; she wasn’t shooting any smirking glances at Teddy.  But Will interpreted her statement the obvious way: as an oblique slam on his political aspirations.  She was with Teddy on purpose, after all.  There was no way she wasn’t an asshole.

They sat awkwardly for a few minutes until Brooke couldn’t take it anymore and stood up.  “It was nice to meet you, Will.  I’m going to put the groceries away and get something together for dinner.  Would you like to stay?”

“I’m sure Will has plans,” said Teddy.  “Right?”

Yeah,” said Will.  “Whatever.  Dinner with a friend, or something.   I’m leaving.  Always a pleasure, Teddy.”

Will shook Teddy’s hand curtly and left.

Brooke picked up the groceries and carried them to the kitchen.  “Well,” she said.  “He seems sweet.”

Teddy followed her, lighting a cigarette. 

“Will says he moved back because he wanted to exploit some of our family connections to break into politics,” said Teddy.  “But I think he’s just angling for the apartment.  He can’t have it, though.  It’s mine by right.”

“I thought it belonged to both your mother and aunt, who'd be Will's grandmother, right?” asked Brooke.

“It did,” said Teddy.  “But, when Aunt Ellinore died, she made no arrangements and Althea was nowhere to be found.  The estate went naturally to me.  And then, right before Althea died a few years later, she reached out to me and asked me to help Will.  I paid for his schooling and sent him money every month.  But he’s 25 now and an adult but I’m still expected to pay for him to live here.  It’s intolerable.” 

“Maybe he could just take one of the other bedrooms,” said Brooke, pulling out some pasta to boil for supper. “I mean, he is family, after all.”

“God, no,” said Teddy, shuddering.  “We do not get along.  His whole side of the family is dissolute and lazy.  My mother kept her finances healthy enough for me to live comfortably.  But my aunt lost all her money in some scheme or another and my cousin lived like a hippie until she died.  Now here pops up Will, who’s graduated from college, paid for on my dime, with no clear plan in place, expecting me just to write him a check.”

Brooke sliced chicken and thought that Teddy was being a little harsh. But, rather than say that aloud she asked about Teddy’s uncle the alderman.  “There is some history in politics, huh?” she said.

“Well, he died years ago,” said Teddy.  “And it’s not as though he were a successful politician.  He only served one term as alderman.”

“Maybe Will has better political skills,” said Brooke, smiling.  “Maybe he’ll be mayor,”

“Will is a wandering, drifting, lazy man,” said Teddy.  “And I expect him to be asking me for money until the day I die.  But such is the burden of family.”

“Well,” said Brooke.  “You never know what a person will turn out to be.  I thought I’d do chicken over pasta tonight.  How’s that sound?

“Oh, I’m sure whatever you make will be fine,” said Teddy, picking up a book he’d left on the table earlier.

Brooke carried on cooking and feeling sorry for Will.