I’d been waiting 20 minutes at a Red Line stop. It was cold, late and I was annoyed as hell. But then I noticed her.
A woman, in an apartment building across from where I was sitting, was moving around her apartment, sweeping.
Now I’m not talking about your average person, you-and-me type of sweeping. This lady was at it.
She moved from one side of her dining room to the other, working her way across from wall-to-wall until she had swept the room. Then she moved on to the living room. Then she’d disappear for a few minutes and start back in the dining room and repeat the cycle.
I could only see her silhouette, but I could tell she was working in a frenzied state by how rapidly she was moving. It was two short strokes of the broom from against the wall, then two long strokes to clear the room to the other wall.
I sat there on bench trying to wrap my head around what I was seeing.
What the hell is wrong with this lady? Who the hell decides to sweep at this time? It’s two in the morning.
After a few more minutes of watching her, I refocused my attention on the train I was waiting for.
I got up from the bench and leaned a little off the platform, looking in the direction my train was supposed to be coming from. Nothing. Not even a glimmer of light from the train’s headlights in the distance. Just darkness.
Damn CTA, It’s been 30 minutes and no train. I’m freezing my ass off.
I paced back-and-forth on the platform, trying to warm up. I checked the time on my phone. Forty-five minutes and still waiting.
I’d almost forgotten about her when I caught a glimpse of her out of the corner of my eye.
Damn lunatic is still at it?
I sat back down on the bench and watched as she repeated her cycle over and over again.
Dining room, living room, disappear for a few minutes and right back to the dinning room.
After watching her for a while, and with no train in sight, my mind began to wander.
Why the hell are you sweeping like that? Are you just a neat freak or did something happen to you that caused you to behave this way? Is the sweeping therapeutic? Does it help you to forget something bad that happened to you in the past? Were you hurt and the sweeping helps make you feel clean again? Hell, what the hell does your downstairs neighbor think with all that sweeping and noise? Who are you sweeping lady?
My train finally arrived, snapping me out of my trance. I boarded, grabbed a seat on the street-side of the car and watched her sweep as the train pulled away.
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These pictures are from Cook County Jail some time in the early seventies.
All photos © Jon Randolph
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For the past few days I’ve been up way past midnight reading Citizen Vince, a novel by Jess Walter.
Great book. I urge everyone to read it.
It tells the story of Vince Camden, a small-time hood from New York City, who winds up with a new identity in the federal witness protection program, working at a donut shop in Spokane, Washington.
One day a mobster from his past comes into his life and the plot takes off from there.
But the thing that makes the book so special — what distinguishes it from all the other tough-guy novels I routinely read — is its recurring riff on politics.
It takes place on the eve of the 1980 presidential election — Jimmy Carter v. Ronald Reagan.
Obsessed with the race, largely because he’s determined to vote for the first in his life, Vince struggles with an existential question: Does my vote matter, if I’m one of 200 or so million people casting one?
Wish I had an answer to that one.
I voted for Jimmy Carter….
Or as Walter writes: “Here is Vince Camden, overwhelmed by his own significance and by the weight of so many choices, undone by this miracle of being and by all these strands connected in the thread of some simple thought: Which of these stupid fucks are you supposed to vote for?”
Oh, Vince — I can relate.
He’s like a pilgrim, searching for enlightenment, asking people who they’re voting for and why?
He gets some interesting responses, like this one from Tic, his colleague at the donut shop….
“I don’t vote, Mr. Vince. That’s what they want — register your ass. So when the shit comes down, they just go to their master list and bang! First thing next morning, you got a fuckin’ hominig device in your teeth.”
He has a classic exchange with a woman named Shirley Stafford, who’s going door-to-door for John Anderson’s third party campaign.
But I should have voted for third-party candidate Barry Commoner….
“`Anderson’s at what, ten percent, four days before the election? I just don’t get why you’re still out here, doing this.’”
“`John Anderson has a chance to poll the highest percentage of any third-party candidate since….’”
“`But he can’t win.’”
“She shifts uncomfortably and slides her lips over the big teeth. `Well, no. But John Anderson believes….’”
“`Look, I’m not talking about that guy. I’m talking about you. Why go door-to-door trying to drum up support for some guy with no chance?’”
Unfortunately, Shirley has no immediate answer. But later she returns, having thought about his question, to tell Vince….
“`I know you’re right; this time we won’t win. But if we can get ten percent, maybe the next outsider will get twenty. And maybe one day twenty years from now, we’ll have more than those two corporate choices.’”
Alas, it’s been over 30 years since that election and we’re pretty much stuck on the same old ”two corporate choices.”
Next election, though — maybe then.
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Since Thanksgiving is over, and Hanukkah is almost over, that means it’s time to go balls out for Christmas, right?
My only real connection Christmas, besides an undying love for “All I Want for Christmas is You” by Mariah Carey, is the giving and getting of presents.
I’ve blogged about my dilemma of “What do I want for Christmas,” years previously, highlighting how what I ask for for Christmas always serves as a good age tracker.
Early in life you get toys, a few years later you get the toy you begged for and HAD TO HAVE, then it’s clothes you want or don’t want, random knick knacks come into the equation a few years after that, and then maybe you’ll get a surprise Playstation 2 because it also serves as a DVD player and your parents DVD player just broke.
Santa is a sneaky bastard.
Last year, my parents took me to Austria for Christmas, so though nothing can top that, I’ve spent most of November emailing and texting my mother things I want this year.
Don’t worry, I also sometimes as her how she’s doing. Or what she’s making for dinner.
The list so far has included curtains for my bedroom windows, a comforter, the Magic Bullet blender thing, headphones, a juicer, and a humidifier.
Yes, I asked for a humidifier and I have no regrets. The air in my room is dry as fuck and something needs to be done about it.
The answer I gave my sister when she asked what I wanted from her may lead you to believe that I am a 15 year old boy:
“Uh, I don’t know, comfy socks and bulls stuff?”
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I watch the Bulls/New Orleans game at the bowling alley.
It’s tough watching Bulls games at the bowling alley because Bob — the owner – is a hockey fan who hates the Bulls almost as much as he loves the Blackhawks.
That’s something people in Chicago don’t want to discuss. But many hockey fans hate basketball and are delighting in the Bulls’ recent misery.
Of which there’s been an abundance since Derrick Rose blew out his knee.
So from the moment I walk through the door, Bob has something to say. Like….
“Hey, Benny — how’s Derrick’s knee?”
Which I ignore.
“Hey, Benny, how’s your fuckin’ Bulls?”
Which I also ignore.
“Fuck the Bulls!”
Ignore that, too.
I’m hoping some of the guys in the bar might come to my defense. But most Chicagoans — fickle fucks that they are — have long since jumped off the Bulls bandwagon since Derrick blew out his knee.
I will now name all the Chicagoans who remain Bulls fans.
Ugh, let’s see — there’s me, Milo, Norm, Cap. Ugh….
Well, you get the point.
Hold it! Bob’s got something to say.
“Hey, Benny, great fuckin’ free throw shooting!”
He’s referring to the fact that Mike Dunleavy, who’s supposed to be a great shooter, just missed a free throw that would have sealed the victory.
For the record, I did not want the Bulls to sign Mike Dunleavy.
I wanted them to re-sign lil’ Nate Robinson.
But did they listen to me?
“Oh, no — that’s tough, Benny.”
He’s alluding to the fact that Jrue Holiday hit a three-point basket to send the game into overtime.
“Aw, too bad.”
I’m trying to think of something really witty to say in return. But at the moment, I can’t.
I sort of miss Brian Scalabrine….
As one overtime blends into another, Bob’s having a field day.
“Hey, Benny — how come Boozer’s not playing?”
“Hey, Benny, how’s Noah?”
“Hey, Benny, where’s Rose?”
“Hey, Benny, how’s your vagina?”
Hmm. That’s a particularly tough, almost existential, question to answer because I do not, in fact, have a vagina. You know, what with me not being a woman and all. Not that I have anything against vaginas. In fact, some of my best friends have them.
Bob loves talking about vaginas. It’s a Blackhawks-fan thing. Normal human beings would not understand.
The game comes down to one last three-point shot by Kirk Hinrich in the third overtime.
It looks good….
Bulls lose — again.
“Hey, Benny,” says Bob. “I didn’t see the final score. Did the Bulls lose?”
Not knowing what else to say, I say…
“Fuck the Blackhawks!”
I know — it’s not nearly as good as “how’s your vagina?”
But it’s a start.
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