Memorial Day went like this

Good morning, lovely, let’s make each other mixtapes, let’s roam the alleys in search of sunbaked kisses, let’s walk from Logan Square to Andersonville stopping at one, two barbecues and learn about the neighborhoods spread like quilts past the edges of our daily commutes. Let’s grill tofu dogs and beer-can chicken, remember the sunscreen after the nose burn, knock back beers before they grow warm, wear big sunglasses like we’re hiding from the press, lay in the cool grass and flick bugs off our knees, have more, have more, have more.

Just a moment

Shoplifted a book from the big chain down the street, dizzy and wild with angst at boxes of bigness and empty covers selling words by the bushel, ran into Caleb and as we talked a woman with wilder eyes and long stringy hair, a hippy who slept I imagine in the corner of a meth lab, asked me for money — I said no, and she said, “How about a dollar?” I said no again, though of course I’d just shoplifted a book and so this seemed to be out of sync with my karmic destiny but she was so aggressive I couldn’t reward aggressive or else I’d be like George Bush, or a tiny version of those yuppies who ease their minds by plinking quarters into homeless dudes’ cups. And then Caleb and I kept talking and then he made me smile, and she saw me smile, and then she yelled at me that I was A PUNK AND WHAT WAS I SMILING ABOUT I WAS YOUNGER THAN HER. And I’m not sure what that meant. I think it’s nice to be younger than her. So that would seem to justify the smile. Were the smile about her. Which it wasn’t. But of course. In the moral superiority department, I’m low on shoes to stand in, or legs to stand on, or however that goes.


A few weeks ago, on my way to dinner with my friend Oriana and running super-early, I noticed a tiny basement-level skateboard shop on Wilson Ave. I poked my head in, hesitating because it seemed completely empty, and because, well, I don’t skate. A middle-aged bald guy in a ripped t-shirt, who sounded a wee bit high, emerged from a parked car: “Go on in! It’s open! It’s just hot in there!” Because I had time to kill, and because someone had once mentioned I should get a longboard, we started talking about the skateboards on the walls, types of longboards, etc. He told me about the back injury that made him reconsider his life of business and begin a life of skate shop-owning, and about how he still cruises around from place to place on his skateboard. (It takes him “two kicks” to get the Starbucks down the block.) I mentioned I might someday buy a used board, just to try it, and he said that he actually happened to have one that he’d give me.

Which is how I ended up outside a skate shop on Wilson Ave. with a skateboard that I placed on the sidewalk and instantly fell right off of. I immediately called my skater friend Kirk who reassured me that he’d teach me to ride it, and that we’d have our own skategang. I showed up for dinner about ten minutes late, carrying the board, and while we waited for our table to be ready, Oriana and I practiced riding up and down the sidewalk, barely keeping our balance longer than five seconds before we rolled in slo-mo into the side of the building.

But I’ve been riding to and from work every day, and since Kirk has an actual life outside of our skategang, have been trying to teach myself via the interweb. The interweb taught me that I started off “goofy-footed” and then was unfortunately “pushing mongo”. I don’t know what either of these things really mean, other than I was leading with the wrong foot and pushing with the wrong foot.

I’m getting better. Oriana and I practiced in an empty parking lot on Tuesday night, which sounds cool except we were only practicing going in straight lines without falling off. A forty-something woman with gray streaks in her ponytail, an acid-washed denim jacket and a slur in her voice came out of a nearby apartment building and lectured us pretty hard-core about safety, how her daughter (who now lived in the suburbs) had been skating since she was three years old, and how her son would’ve been our age had he not passed away. She didn’t mention whether his passing was skateboard-related. Oriana had hurt her ankle a few minutes before, and the woman, Stephanie, was appalled. “I’m such a mother, you stay right there,” she said. I felt her start to become the kind of stranger who transcends that very fine line between friendly and over-friendly, but we went with it anyways. We were laid-back skaters. She ambled back to her apartment and returned with an Ace bandage wrap for Oriana’s ankle. (She apologized that she didn’t have much bandage left, most of it had been used as grip tape for her bird’s perch.) Oriana sat on the skateboard while Stephanie bandaged her up. “I’m going to look out for you ladies,” she said.

Last night as I walked home from the grocery store, I watched three teenagers who actually knew how to use their skateboards, gliding along the sidewalk, talking and text-messaging at the same time. Maybe someday.

Skeleton Journeys

During the summer after my junior year of high school, a professor named Ken Sroka held summer English classes at a local college, a course called “Journeys in Literature”. At the time, it felt like an island of time to think and read and grow. We read Joseph Campbell, Joyce Carol Oates, Robert Pirsig, James Joyce, Lawrence Ferlinghetti… writers that shaped how I came to regard the world. Part of that course was an investigation into the question: Go or stay? Learn something new and risk failure, or deepen your roots where you are and risk stagnation? I’ve pondered these same questions ever since, turning them over in my hands — they feel heavy and smooth from years of worrying, like a well-worn leather-bound book.


Recently I picked up Sherman Alexie’s The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven, and he has this to say:


Your past is a skeleton walking one step behind you, and your future is a skeleton walking one step in front of you. Maybe you don’t wear a watch, but your skeletons do, and they always know what time it is. Now, these skeletons are made of memories, dreams and voices. And they can trap you in the in-between, between touching and becoming. But they’re not necessarily evil, unless you let them be.


What you have to do is keep moving, keep walking, in step with your skeletons.  They ain’t ever going to leave you, so you don’t have to worry about that… Sometimes, though, your skeletons will talk to you, tell you to sit down and take a rest, breathe a little.  Maybe they’ll make you promises, tell you all the things you want to hear.


Sometimes your skeletons will dress up as beautiful Indian women and ask you to slow dance.  Sometimes your skeletons will dress up as your best friend and offer you a drink, one more for the road.  Sometimes your skeletons will look exactly like your parents and offer you gifts.


But, no matter what they do, keep walking, keep moving.  And don’t wear a watch.  Hell, Indians never need to wear a watch because your skeletons will always remind you about the time.  See, it is always now.  That’s what Indian time is.  The past, the future, all of it is wrapped up in the now.  That’s how it is.  We are all trapped in the now.




Oh, Louisa

I just checked out a book by Louisa May Alcott from the public library. it’s called A Long Fatal Love Chase. And from every page I can bring myself to read, it’s terrible: Melodramatic, stereotypical characters, vague descriptions that sound straight out of by-the-book romance novels. Paragraphs like: “The boy’s only answer was an eloquent look and a closer grasp of the hand that still lay on his shoulder. Tempest smiled a genuine, warm, soft smile which changed and beautified him wonderfully as he said, ‘He’s a pretty plaything, isn’t he? I found him in Greece and took a fancy into my idle head that I could make a fine man of him.'” Baffled by this low-quality Louisa, I turned to the back flap and saw that it was an unpublished early novel, written before she wrote Little Women, which is one of my all-time favorite books.

I can’t get past the first chapter. But I’m grateful to know that not every great author started with golden phrases flying like so many butterflies from her inkwell. Gives me hope.

Chicago gives art the middle finger.

Sign this petition, if you haven’t already:

City Council is proposing that all “event promoters” must be licensed. Unfortunately, this will also hit small theater companies, improv teams, musicians, poets, pretty much anyone who does not own their own venue. Seriously. Dumbest. Thing. Ever.

UPDATE 5/13: The ordinance has been tabled until more “research” can be done, presumably by Alderman Schulter, who was heading up the committee. My favorite part: Made aware of concerns in many corners of Chicago’s arts communities, Schulter asked DBA [The Department of Business Affairs] for more facts and figures about the alleged “problem venues” and “underground promoters” that the ordinance was designed to curtail. Some of those who attended the meeting said DBA had to admit that it had no hard information and that it has not formally studied the extent of the alleged problem that the law was crafted to address; they had only the anecdotal evidence of the single tragic incident at the E2 Nightclub five years ago.

The Next Wave of Undead

Recently there was a “zombie pub crawl” in my neighborhood. People dressed up as zombies in torn clothing and pale, blood-blotched faces and went from bar to bar, grunting and knocking blindly into things. Zombies seem popular right now, in hipster culture. And I have to wonder, what’s the next trend in the undead? Vampires? Didn’t they have their day in the 90s? Mummies? Can they really be as cool as vampires and zombies? Maybe we’re in for a twist — maybe it’s robots, who never lived as humans at all, who will come for us in armies and remind us that at any moment our mortal hearts may seize up and cease.

More St. Louis

-Morning… Sonic + City Museum. Learned: Sonic = still makes me swoon with its Cherry Limeades and tator tots. The City Museum = institutionalized dangerous fun. We crawled through steel mesh tubes suspended ten stories up, through dark caves seven stories down, slid down slides that ended in concrete floors (plus there were was the gallery of vintage opera posters, the enormous pipe organ, the turtle aquarium, the spatula and doorknob museum, the shoelace factory, etc.) Mental snapshots: Wiping out at the end of a steep slide and having a little kid ask, “Are you ok?” Slamming my body on skate park ramps and sliding down the smooth, curved wood. Looking down at my feet and realizing I was standing on a steel grid from five stories up. Feeling like Becky in Tom Sawyer exploring dark caves full of muffled echoes.

-Afternoon… The Arch + More Sonic. Learned: It feels peaceful to stand with my whole back against it so I feel like I’m part of a giant magnet. Mental snapshots: Looking up at the Arch from below and feeling so utterly tiny. Watching the Mississippi gently lap against the side of a river boat.  Watching Kevin roll down a huge, grassy hill. Pulling into the Sonic parking lot for our second fast food fixes of the day, having to remove the giant cups from our morning Cherry Limeades before we inserted the giant cups from our afternoon Cranberry Limeades.

-Evening… Sleep. Learned: Sleep feels good after a day of bruising oneself and eating Sonic. Mental snapshots: Whatever dreamscape rolled in waves through my sleepstate.

Here’s what I wrote in college, after my first trip to St. Louis.

St. Louis

I’m in St. Louis with Kevin, visiting friends Jade and Joe, who moved here last year. Today:

-Morning…Brewery tour + zoo. Learned: Midwest = wide bottoms, much drinking and Dippin’ Dotting. Mental snapshots: Kevin shouting how we were having a great honeymoon, the Spekes gazzelles, the deep green and sun-soaked landscape, the intricately painted hippie bus in an empty parking lot, fresh soft pretzels.

-Evening…The University district + the movie Planet B-Boy. Learned: Hipsters = everywhere, breakdancing = coolest thing ever. Mental snapshots: a little girl hula-hooping to the beat of a drum circle in the square, while a boy her age watched from atop a statue. She asked what his name was. Bottomless mugs of root beer. The Tivoli theater’s cool old movie posters and gilt-edged charm. The awe-inspiring dancing from the winning Korean team in the documentary we saw.

Plus Jade and Joe are hosting us. Which means much lounging, eating, and all-around goodness.

Time for sleep.