Letter From Milo: Timing is Everything

November 20th, 2017

This was going to be a great weekend, a spectacular weekend, a weekend so filled with excess and debauchery that, if everything went according to plan, I’d be lucky to escape with my life.

You see, the lovely Mrs. Milo was going away for the weekend with a bunch of her slutty girlfriends. They were going to a cottage in Michigan where, they assured me, they planned to enagage in good-natured gossip, exchange recipes and knitting tips, and perhaps share a bottle or two of Chardonnay.

I would be alone for three glorious days, free to indulge in low-life pleasures on an epic scale. I was going to swim in rivers of Tennessee whiskey and float on clouds of fine California reefer. I was going to frolic with women, lots of women, preferably two or three at a time. And I intended to spend at least one evening in a brutal all-night poker game, where all the players were sure to be drunk, heavily armed and had aces up their sleeves.

Unfortunately, things didn’t go according to plan. Shortly before my wife left for Michigan, I caught the damned flu.

I felt the first symptom on the morning my wife was leaving, waking up with a slight tickle in my throat. I didn’t think much of it. I often wake up with aches, pains, cuts, scratches and bruises of unknown origins. By late afternoon my nose was running and I was firing off sneezes four or five at a time. I felt like shit and sensed that things would only get worse.

The lovely Mrs. Milo exhibited the requisite spousal concern for my well-being.

“Darn, I hate to leave just when you’re getting sick, but we’ve been planning this trip for weeks,” she said, as she snapped her suitcase shut and edged toward the door.

“Don’t worry about a thing, dumpling. This is a mere bump in the road. It’s probably just one of those 24-hour nuisance colds.”

“I hope that’s all it is. Try not to drink too much. I doubt alcohol will help your condition.”

“Your advice is duly noted.”

When I awoke the next morning the flu had settled in my chest. I was feverish and coughing as harshly and steadily as a chain-smoking West Virginia coal miner. By early afternoon I was at death’s creaky door, and the door was slowly swinging open.

I called my physician at the VA hospital, Dr, Frankie “Disco” Lopez and explained my plight. He told me to come down to the hospital. “Make it quick,” he said. “I’ve got a horse running in the eighth race at Arlington and don’t want to miss it.”

Somehow I managed to drag my ailing ass down to the hospital in good time and was quickly admitted into the doctor’s office. When Dr. Lopez saw me, he shook his head and said, “Dude, you look like shit.”

“Is that your professional opinion?”

“I’m pretty sure that would be Stevie Wonder’s opinion, too.”

After a cursory examination, Dr. Lopez said, “You’ve got a real good dose of the flu. There’s a nasty strain of it going around now. I’ve seen a lot of cases in the last few weeks.”

“What’s the prognosis?”

“It depends on your lifestyle and, most importantly, your age. I had a patient last week who had a case similar to yours. He was a heavy drinker and smoker, and had a real bad cough like the one you’ve got.”

“Were you able to help him?”

“I gave him some pills, told him to drink lots of fluids and get plenty of bed rest.”

“What happened to the guy?”

“The fucker died.”

“Jesus! He must have been an old man.”

“No, I believe he was about your age.”

“Ah, shit.”

I’ve had a fear of the flu ever since I read “The Stand,” by Stephen King. The disease has been responsible for tens of millions, if not hundreds of millions, of fatalities over the years. Not only is it deadly, it’s treacherous, too. The virus mutates at an alarming rate. Every year science has to come up with a new vaccine to battle the latest variation of the fiendish and opportunistic affliction. Unfortunately, the vaccines don’t always work. I know people that have had flu shots and still caught the flu.

But I wasn’t worried. I was in good hands. Dr. Frankie “Disco” Lopez is a master of the medical arts. When I left the hospital I figured I was well on the way to recovery.

The good doctor had sized up the situation and come up with a solution. On my way out of his office he handed me a vial of pills and said “These will make you feel real good.”

He also recommended I drink lots of fluids and get plenty of bed rest.

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Letter From Milo: Bingo Queens

November 13th, 2017

This past Saturday I made the one-hour drive to Munster, Indiana to visit my 91-year-old mother at her assisted living facility. She’s been in the home for a few years now, and I don’t see her as often as I’d like. Fortunately, my sister lives about five minutes away from the place and visits Mom almost every day.

Mom wasn’t in her room when I got there, so I went to the nursing station and asked one of the nurses if she knew of my mother’s whereabouts.

“I believe she’s in the dining room, playing Bingo.”

Sure enough, that’s where I found my mother, playing Bingo with about 20 other elderly ladies. My mother recognized me when I greeted her, which made me happy. The dear lady has Alzheimer’s Disease and I know that in another year, if she lives that long, she probably won’t know who I am.

Mom gave me a big smile and said, “What are you doing here?”

“I just came by to visit.”

She seemed puzzled. “Where am I?”

“You’re in an assisted living place.”

She looked around the room, taking in the scene, then, nodded her head in understanding. “Well, I’m playing Bingo now.”

“Yes, I can see that. I’ll just go sit down and have a cup of coffee. We’ll talk when the game is over.”

While I was enjoying my coffee and watching the Bingo game, it occurred to me that most of the ladies playing the game were very much like my mother – blooded veterans of the cut-throat Northwest Indiana Bingo circuit.

In their prime, they had played Bingo in church basements, VFWs, school auditoriums and American Legion halls all over Lake County, from Hammond to Gary to Valparaiso and beyond. When they were younger, these Bingo stalwarts were fierce competitors, keen-eyed, quick-witted and aggressive. They were apex bingo predators. Some were so good that they played a half a dozen cards at a time.

At least once a week, these badass Bingo queens would hit the streets, looking for action. And they were hardly ever disappointed. Most of the time they came back as winners, bringing home supermarket and department store gift certificates, beauty salon coupons, and, occasionally, some cash money. When the holidays rolled around, the ladies usually came home with Christmas turkeys and Easter hams, bags of frozen shrimp, and boxes of Omaha steaks.

Sadly, the ladies playing Bingo in the nursing home, my mother included, were way past their prime. The skills they needed to succeed at high-level, competitive Bingo were long gone. Dementia, hearing problems, poor eyesight, and various other afflictions had robbed them of the considerable abilities they once possessed. Watching them was like watching one of your childhood baseball heroes hobbling painfully around the bases during an old timers’ game.

When the lady who ran the Bingo game spoke into her microphone and said, “The next number is G 16, G 16,” the old ladies did their best to swing into action.

“What did she say?”

“I think it was B 15.”

“No, that’s not it. The number was B 13.”

“Marge, did you catch the number?”

“No, I wasn’t paying attention.”

“LaVerne, did you hear the number?”

LaVerne said, “Lumma, lumma, lumma.”

The announcer, who, by the way, had the patience of a cicada, repeated the number. “Ladies, that was G 16, G 16.”

“See, I told you it was B15.”

A few minutes later, one of the players hollered, “Bingo!” When the announcer walked over to check the winner’s card, she said, “Edna, you don’t have Bingo. Two of those numbers were never called.”

“Darn, I thought I had a winner.”

A short time afterwards, another lady hollered “Bingo!?” When her card was checked, it turned out that she was mistaken, too.

I was hoping for the best when my mother called, “Bingo!” But, unfortunately, she had also gotten a couple of numbers wrong.

When the day’s Bingo action was over and the cards and markers had been cleared away, I walked over to talk to my mother. She gave me a big smile when she saw me. “Honey, what are you doing here?”

“I just came by to visit.”

She seemed confused. “Where am I?”

“Mom, you’re in an assisted living facility.”

She was quiet for a few moments, thinking things over, then she said, “You look skinny. You should eat more.”

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Letter From Milo: Pull My Finger

November 6th, 2017

To the best of my knowledge, the lovely Mrs. Milo has never cut a fart. Although we’ve never discussed the subject, I’m sure she considers passing gas beneath her dignity.

Unlike my ragged and freestyle upbringing, my wife was raised properly, learning the basics of correct behavior at an early age. In her waspishly proper household (both parents were from Boston and of English descent) farting was, no doubt, frowned upon. That’s why if there’s any farting to be done in this family, I’ll be the one doing it.

I don’t recall ever farting in church, but I’ve cut the cheese just about everywhere else. I’ve flatulated in schools, hospitals, taverns, restaurants, pool rooms, government buildings, Marshall Field’s on State Street, elevated trains, board rooms and foxholes. I have released unpleasant fumes in many of these United States and on four different continents. And I’m not done yet. My bucket list includes the Taj Mahal, the Great Pyramid at Giza, Buckingham Palace, the Pentagon and Carnegie Hall.

I don’t mean to come across as sexist, but I honestly believe that women are not very good at farting. They can’t seem to get the hang of it. On the rare occasions when they have to let off a bit of steam, they fire away with wimpy little tootlets that barely qualify as farts. Worst of all, in my opinion, they don’t seem to take joy in the act.

“Millicent, my precious, did you by any chance emit a bit of gas in the last few minutes?”

“Oh, Harvey, this is so embarrassing. I was praying that you wouldn’t notice. This hasn’t happened to me in years. I hope you won’t think badly of me.”

“Don’t be too hard on yourself, dumpling. Even the most refined and well-bred women are subject to an occasional lapse in dignified behavior. I’ll just fetch the room deodorizer, dear, and we’ll forget this unfortunate incident ever happened.”

Naturally, there are exceptions to male domination of the flatulence scene. A handful of women have equaled and, in some cases, surpassed men in the ability to break wind.  That said, men still dominate the arena. Passing gas, loudly, frequently and rankly, is a macho activity, associated with virile types like cowboys (see Blazing Saddles), firemen, lumberjacks, Navy Seals and, of course, bloggers. The editorial staff here at The Third City is a shining example of flatulent excellence, especially Benny Jay, who has eaten nothing but fried chicken and cheese grits for the past 20 years.

To prove my point, I’m going to release a partial transcript of the minutes of The Third City’s last editorial board meeting.

“Jesus! What the fuck was that!”

“Oh, lord, will somebody please open a fucking window!”

“Goddamnit, Mike! Have the decency to give a guy a warning. Smells like a rat crawled up your ass and died.”

“It wasn’t me. It was that asshole Benny.”

“It wasn’t me, either. It was that bastard Milo. The fucker’s been drinking beer and eating beef jerky all morning.”

“Don’t look at me. It was probably that shithead Randolph.”

“You idiot, Jon’s not even here.”

“Well, what about that greasy new intern we hired. He looks like a nasty fucker.”

“Will somebody please open a damned window?”

As bad as that experience was, it didn’t rank very high on my list of all-time fart horror stories. The absolute worst happened to me when I was in high school.

I was driving around with five of my friends in the 1959 Mercury I had recently purchased for $110. My friends, Dickie Kaiser, Dave Spurlock, Sandy Bordeaux, Kenny Woodside, Jim Krock and I had pooled our meager resources and purchased two cases of the cheapest beer in town. I think we paid four dollars a case.

We were having some good clean fun, just surfing the streets, drinking beer and listening to Dick Biondi on WLS. It was a cold winter’s night, so we had the windows rolled up. At some point in the evening, when we each had four or five beers sloshing around in our bellies, Dave Spurlock cut a monster of a fart, a fart for the ages. It was so loud that I thought one of the guys had set off an M-80 in the back seat.

A second later, the inevitable occurred and the other smelly shoe dropped. The stink that permeated the car was unbearable. It was dense, clinging and as putrid as the grave. The odor was a combination of everything vile – rotten eggs, rotten fish, dog shit, dirty sneakers and a backed up sewer. I doubt anything on earth smelled worse than that particular fart.

I almost lost control of the car. Dickie Kaiser had his head hanging out of the back window, vomiting up all the beer he had been drinking. I could hear Sandy Bordeaux gagging. It was a dangerous moment.

Somehow, through sheer strength of will, I managed to pull the car over to the curb. The guys tumbled out of the car, gagging, coughing, eyes watering and noses running. Jim Krock threw up the beer he had been drinking. I gagged and spat a couple of times, but was able to keep down most of the evening’s refreshments. It was touch and go for a while, but somehow Lady Luck was on our side and we all survived.

After blowing his nose and wiping his eyes with a handkerchief, Kenny Woodside said, “Good one, Dave. That was a hell of a fart.”

Dave had a huge smile on his face. He radiated joy and satisfaction. “I thought you guys would appreciate that one,” he said.

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Letter From Milo: Fore!

October 30th, 2017

I didn’t play golf as a kid. I don’t recall ever seeing a golf course in Gary, Indiana, where I grew up. The main problem, I figured, was that there was simply was not enough open space in town to build a golf course. Most of the available acreage in Gary was taken up by taverns, whore houses and pool rooms.

I never knew anyone who played the game. If anyone in town owned golf clubs, they probably used them to settle grudges, collect debts, or fend off the wild dogs and feral pigs that roamed the streets.

I was perfectly happy with my ignorance of golf. I wanted nothing to do with the dumbass game. I thought of it as a foppish activity, played by privileged white guys who wore ugly clothes and had way too much time on their hands.

Then I met the woman who would eventually become the lovely Mrs. Milo. When, to my surprise, our relationship seemed like it was getting serious, she decided it was time for me to meet her parents, which required a trip to her hometown of Fargo, North Dakota.

My soon-to-be mother-in-law, Elthea, was a lovely and gracious woman, but my girlfriend’s father, Ted, was a tough old bird. After sizing me up, obviously wondering what his daughter saw in me, and making some small talk, he asked, “Do you play golf?”

“Can’t say that I do.”

“I suggest you learn the game if you plan on having anything to do with this family.”

Normally, I don’t take direction well, but I had grown rather fond of the future Mrs. Milo’s, ah, shall we say, domestic skills and decided to take her father’s advice. When I got back to Chicago I bought a set of used clubs and tried my best to learn the game.

I quickly discovered that I would never become a good golfer. Mediocrity was probably beyond my reach. The best I could hope for was to reach a level of skill that would permit me to play a round of golf without humiliating myself.

My main golfing partner at the time was a dear friend who I’ll call 3-Putt Bruce, to spare him undue embarrassment. 3-Putt Bruce had played golf as a kid but gave up the game in his late teens and twenties. He claimed he had been pretty good at one time, but by the time we started golfing together, his skills had deteriorated to the point where it was difficult to say which one of us was worse.

Together, we butchered most of the courses in the Chicago area and Northwest Indiana. We left a pathetic trail of double bogies, triple bogies, and worse, from Grayslake to Michigan City. We needed calculators to tote up our score cards. And we usually had to buy another sleeve of golf balls after finishing the front nine.

Our golf games were not helped by the fact that we always brought along our own refreshments. Although we kept the young ladies in the beer carts busy, we also generally packed a pint of Jack Daniels and a couple of joints in our golf bags. I doubt the USGA would have approved. In fact, I doubt anyone but John Daly would have approved.

“Excellent shot, Milo. Were you by any chance aiming for that pond?”

“Bruce, my friend, I notice that you’ve been spending a lot of time in the woods today. You might consider brushing up on your course management skills. ”

“Milo, that was a nice piece of landscaping you did in the sand trap. Do you recall, roughly, how many strokes it took you to get out of there?”

“Bruce, maybe I’m over intellectualizing here, but what does the term ‘out of bounds’ really mean, in the cosmic sense?”

One day Bruce and I were playing a shitty golf course in one of the northern suburbs. It was one of those tight little courses, where most of the fairways run side by side. The course was crowded that day, with foursomes wandering the fairways and backed up in the tee boxes.

Bruce was getting ready to tee off when I noticed a foursome of older men in the fairway to our left. I thought they were a bit close, 40 or 50 yards away, and said to Bruce, “You might want to wait a minute until those old fucks get out of the way.”

Bruce glanced over at the group, then, continued with his pre-shot routine. “There’s nothing to worry about, my man,” he told me. “I’m hitting this ball about 460 yards straight down the middle of this fairway. Those old bastards have absolutely nothing to worry about.”

As it happened, Bruce hit a wicked snap hook that streaked toward the foursome like a hot line drive. There was no time to yell “Fore!” The golfers in the fairway never saw it coming. The golf ball hit one of the golfers directly in the forehead. I’ve never forgotten the sound of the ball striking the man. It was not much different than the sound of Paul Konerko making solid contact with a baseball, and just as loud.

The man collapsed. I thought he had been killed. By the time we got there his playing partners had him sitting up with his back propped against a tree. He was drooling and talking nonsense, but he was still alive. By the time the ambulance arrived, about ten minutes later, he was coherent and complaining about a headache.

Bruce was a bit shaken and I was rattled, too. Neither of us felt like finishing the round. I wondered why I even wasted my time playing such a ridiculous game in the first place. I didn’t play another round of golf the rest of that year.

So we left the golf course and headed for a nearby bar. It felt good to be in a tavern, sitting on a backless stool, chatting with the bartender, listening to the jukebox and sipping from a cold beer. I felt comfortable. I’m sure Bruce felt the same way.

We may not have been the greatest golfers in the world, but we made up for it by being excellent tavern patrons.

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Letter From Milo: Fun with Meds

October 23rd, 2017

Men of a certain age are prone to weird ailments. Eight or nine months ago, I developed a bulge in my abdominal wall, a hernia.

When I mentioned it to Dr. Frankie “Disco” Lopez, my physician at the V.A. hospital, he said, “Dude, hernia surgery is a simple procedure. We’ll fix it in the morning and you’ll be home in time to watch Brian Williams on the five o’clock news.”

“I don’t want to have surgery.”

“You’re a hard-headed fucker. Okay, we’ll just keep an eye on the hernia. Let me know if it starts bothering you.”

A couple of weeks ago, the hernia started causing pain, making me uncomfortable. When I called Dr. Frankie to complain, he said he’d send something to deal with the pain.

Two days later, I received a package in the mail, containing 60 hydrocodone tablets.

Later that afternoon, the hernia began to bother me, so I took one of the pills. Then I noticed it was close to five o’clock, so I poured a glass of wine.

A short time later, the pain was gone. In fact, I actually felt pretty good. I figured if one pill and a couple of glasses of wine made me feel that good, another pill and more wine would make me feel even better.

The rest of the evening passed in a sort of haze. I walked over to Lincoln Square, browsed in the book store, and stopped for a whiskey or two at one of the German bars on the street. When I got home, I spent most of the evening on the computer, playing online solitaire and poker. I avoided social media because I knew I was fucked up and didn’t want to post anything more stupid or offensive than I usually post. I drank more wine. I may have taken another pill.

The next morning, the lovely Mrs. Milo asked me, “Did you drink two bottles of wine last night?”

“Perhaps.”

“Jesus, what got into you?”

“What the hell, babe, it’s not the first time that’s ever happened.”

The hernia wasn’t bothering me that morning, but I knew it was just a matter of time before it made its presence known. I decided to be pro-active, and took a hydrocodone pill right after breakfast, just in case.

I had to run a few errands that day – grocery store, post office, Jiffy Lube. I stopped for lunch and had a beer with my hamburger. When I finished eating, I remembered that I had a couple of hydrocodone pills in my pocket. I swallowed them with the second bottle of beer I ordered.

My wife went out with her girlfriends that evening, leaving me alone and bored. I wandered over to Swillagain’s Saloon, had a few drinks with the boys, smoked a little reefer, watched the Bulls game, and enjoyed a few more drinks. I don’t remember what time I got home.

The next few days were a blur. I stumbled through them in a narcotic and alcoholic fog. My wife sensed there was something wrong, but she probably attributed it to my penchant for low-life activities. Wisely, she avoided me.

The train, however, kept a rolling.

I lost my cell phone. My checking account was overdrawn. There were cocktail napkins in my pockets with names and numbers scribbled on them that I didn’t recognize. I opened a can of Progresso clam chowder, put it on the stove, turned on the burner, and forgot about it. More than a dozen people, most of them women, unfriended me on Facebook. One night I came home wearing just one shoe. Another night I came home with what appeared to be a hickey on my neck. I directed traffic for a while at the corner of Montrose and Western Avenue. I ran into an old girlfriend, but she claimed she didn’t remember me. I bought another cell phone and promptly lost that one, too.

A couple of days ago, I woke up and felt the hernia nagging at me. When I checked my vial of hydrocodone, I was terribly disappointed to discover that it was empty. All the pills were gone.

I immediately called Dr. Frankie. “Hey Doc,” I said, “The hernia is really bothering me this morning and I’m out of hydrocodone.”

“Wait a minute. I sent you 60 pills less than a week ago. Did you take them all?”

“No, I lost the vial. I’m sure it fell out of my pocket somewhere, probably at the racetrack.”

“I see.”

“You don’t have to mail the pills. I’ll stop by and pick them up. I’ll be there in 20 minutes.”

“I’ve got a better idea.”

“What’s that?”

“Why don’t we just fix the hernia?”

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Letter From Milo: The Point

October 16th, 2017

The Crown Point Detention Home, in Northwest Indiana, was the first stop on the road to reform school for teenaged Hoosier miscreants.

Every Friday afternoon, buses and vans, hauling young criminals from Lake County jails, would deliver their cargo of underage car thieves, burglars, shoplifters, druggies, armed robbers, rapists and the murderously inclined to “The Point,” which was what the Detention Home was generally called.

There were 50 to 60 kids at a time in residence at The Point. Sometimes there would be a preponderance of black guys from the mean streets of Gary. Other times Latinos from Hammond and East Chicago would be in the majority. And there were times when the inmate population would consist mainly of tough white boys from the factory towns and outlying semi-rural communities like Lowell, Black Oak and Hebron.

The average stay at The Point was 10 days to three weeks. During that time the teenaged inmates would be evaluated by the Detention Home’s staff in a number of areas, including intelligence, socialization, reactions to stress, aggression levels and violent tendencies. The staff’s evaluations would determine which type of reform school and what level of security would be most appropriate for the juvenile offender.

Sometimes, though, for reasons unknown, the staff would recommend that a young man be given another chance and the lucky kid would be unconditionally released or set free on terms of probation.

A high school friend, who I’ll call Nicky, had the misfortune of spending 18 days in the Crown Point Detention Home. Nicky was an odd but somewhat interesting guy, a bad boy, roguish yet likable. He was a tough kid, who grew up in difficult circumstances and hung out with a bad crowd. But he was also bright and had a good sense of humor. He liked to read, too. He always had a paperback book sticking out of his back pocket.

Nicky was sent to The Point because he got caught riding shotgun in a stolen car, which he did not know was stolen. He was 15 years old when he was sent to The Point.

When Nicky arrived at The Point, the majority of inmates were black. Nicky was a tough kid but even he would admit that the sight of all those rugged looking black guys, many of them two or three years older than he was, scared him. Things got worse when Nicky saw a guy he recognized, a wiry Puerto Rican kid named Rico, who was a member of a Gary street gang called “The Mystics.” The Mystics and Nicky’s friends didn’t get along.

Nicky and Rico stared for a while, giving each other cold looks. Had they met on the street there probably would have been trouble. Then, for no apparent reason, a barrier seemed to fall and the mood changed. They nodded at each other in recognition and broke into sheepish grins. When Rico approached, Nicky noticed that his face was bruised, scratched and swollen.

“What happened, man? You look like you’ve been in a fight.”

“The black dudes have been fucking with me. I’ve got nobody to back me up.”

“How long have you been here?”

“Three days.”

“How often have you had to fight?”

“Three days.”

Nicky and Rico spent most of the day together, talking about things they had done and friends and enemies they had in common. They sat together at lunch and dinner. They played checkers in the dayroom. Although nothing had been said and no deals made, they had come to an understanding.

That night, when three black guys approached Rico, who was the only Latino in the dormitory, and the fight started, Nicky dove in, punching the guy that sucker-punched Rico. More black guys joined in, the odds were ridiculous, but the important thing was that Nicky and Rico fought back. Not fighting, being passive or showing fear, might attract even more unwelcome forms of attention.

Fortunately, the fights never lasted more than a minute. The racket always drew the attention of the counselors, which is what the guards were called, and they broke up the battles pretty quickly. Still, Nicky and Rico took a pretty good beating, but they also inflicted some pain. When the counselors rushed into the dormitory to break up this particular fight, it seemed that none of the combatants were sorry to see the melee end.

During the day, the inmates were left to their own devices. They could play handball, watch TV, play cards or board games, or do nothing at all. Rico liked to watch TV. Nicky liked to read. Some old lady had donated her library to The Point, so there was a pretty good selection of reading material.

Nicky was dreading the coming night. He didn’t want to take another beating, but there was no no way to avoid it, no place to hide. He took comfort in the fact that he wasn’t alone. Nicky found a quiet corner and was reading a book, when one of the counselors, a guy called Mr. Toby, who was a grad student at St. Joseph’s College, approached him.

“What are you reading?”

“Lust for Life, by Irving Stone.”

“What’s it about?”

“A couple of painters from France.”

“Did you get to the part where the guy cuts his own ear off?”

“Yeah, that was a couple of chapters ago.”

That night, a couple of black guys approached Nicky. Harsh words were exchanged, threats were made and the fight was on. Nicky was quickly overwhelmed, but Rico jumped in and took some of the pressure off Nicky. They were taking a beating, but were still on their feet and fighting when someone yelled that the counselors were coming and the brawl broke up.

The next day Nicky was in his corner, reading a Jack London novel, when Mr. Toby walked up to him.

“Looks like you’ve been in a fight.”

“I didn’t have much choice.”

Mr. Toby nodded in understanding. “What are you reading?”

“The Sea Wolf.”

“That’s a pretty good book. I read it a couple of years ago. Did you already finish that book about Van Gogh?”

“Yeah, I read pretty fast.”

“That’s a good skill to have.”

That night and the night after, the black guys left Nicky and Rico alone. The day after that, most of the blacks were shipped off to Indiana’s downstate reformatories. They were replaced by equal numbers of Latinos and whites. The new arrivals battled for dominance as ferociously as the blacks had done, but the Latinos never troubled Nicky. Rico was covering his back.

A couple of weeks later, Nicky was summoned to the Superintendent’s office, where he was released to the custody of a probation officer. As he was walking to the probation officer’s car, Nicky saw Rico watching him from the other side of a razor-wired fence. Nicky started walking toward Rico, but the probation officer stopped him

“Where do you think you’re going?”

“I want to say goodbye to my friend.”

“You’re officially on probation now. You’re not allowed to associate with criminals. Get in the car.”

For a brief moment Nicky thought about disobeying the probation officer, but realized that nothing good would come of it. The only thing he could do was wave goodbye to his friend. Rico seemed to understand Nicky’s situation. He waved goodbye also, then made a fist, thumped his chest twice and pointed his finger at Nicky.

On the ride back to Gary, the probation officer said, “You’re a lucky kid.”

“Why’s that?”

“One of the counselors took a liking to you. Said you were a smart kid, liked to read books. Never caused any problems. He said you deserved another chance. If it wasn’t for him you’d be working for the government right now, learning the fine arts of manufacturing license plates and sewing canvas bags.”

“That was nice of him.”

“Personally, I don’t give a shit about books. The only thing I care about is that you show up at my office in the courthouse building every Saturday at 10 in the morning, for the next six months. You got that?”

“I wouldn’t miss it for the world.”

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Letter From Milo: Wild Thing

October 9th, 2017

Dickie Kaiser’s father owned a workingman’s tavern on 5th Avenue in Gary, near the main entrance to the U.S. Steel plant. Dickie grew up among rowdy, hard-drinking, and often violent steelworkers. Juke box music was the soundtrack of his young life.

Dickie and I were high school classmates and friends. As teenagers, we enjoyed some of the same low-life pleasures – hanging out in pool rooms, drinking cheap beer, trying to get lucky with the local girls, and smoking reefer when the Serrano brothers had some available.

We were classic bad influences, the kind of guys that parents warned their children to stay away from. As a result of these well-intentioned parental advisories, Dickie and I never lacked for company.

Dickie was always up for a good time. Everybody liked him. He was a lot of fun, but sometimes, when he was drinking, he would get mean. He’d start arguments with people for no reason and sometimes those disagreements turned into brawls.

Dickie was scrawny, about 140 pounds, and not very tough. But he had a big mouth and it regularly got him into trouble. Fortunately for him, some of the boys in our crowd were genuine tough guys. They saved Dickie from taking a lot of beatings. They liked and protected him. Dickie may have started the fights, but the big boys finished them.

After graduating high school, Dickie enrolled in a college. He lasted about two months. Shortly after dropping out, he got drafted into the United States Army and sent to Vietnam, where, I believe, he served as a mechanic or a truck driver.

A year in a war zone didn’t do much to improve Dickie’s temperament. If anything, his time in Vietnam made him even feistier, and he was drinking more than ever.

He tried college again, on the G.I. Bill, enrolling in Indiana State University, where I happened to be studying. Again, he only lasted a couple of months. Despite a few unpleasant incidents, it was fun having my old friend around.

I was in a fog most of my college years and don’t remember much of Dickie’s short stay, but I do recall that he once asked me to call him Rick, instead of Dickie. Apparently, the name Dickie wasn’t dignified enough.

I said, “Sure, Dickie, whatever you want.”

He went to work in his father’s tavern for a while, but argumentative bartenders are bad for business and the old man fired him. Dickie wasted a few years knocking around the country, spending time in Florida, the West Coast, and then back in Indiana. The last I heard, he had relocated to one of the southwestern states.

In the mid-1970s, I had settled in Chicago, sharing a coach house on Burling, just south of Armitage, with my dear friends Bruce Diksas and Wayne Gray. One afternoon, about two o’clock, I was awakened by a phone call from my sister.

“I’ve got some bad news. It’s about Dickie Kaiser.”

“Ah, shit. What did that crazy fucker do now?”

“He’s in a hospital in Phoenix. He got beat up in a bar. I heard his skull was fractured in several places. If he lives he’ll have serious brain damage.”

I made a few phone calls, trying to find out what had happened. The story, as I heard it, was that Dickie had gotten into an argument over a game of pool in a seedy bar in Phoenix. The argument quickly escalated into a fight and Dickie was nearly beaten to death with a pool cue. He had 11 fractures in his skull, which meant that some brutal bastard smashed Dickie’s head 11 times with the cue stick.

Dickie survived, but he would be hospitalized for the rest of his life. Fortunately, he was a veteran, so his medical costs were covered. When he was well enough to travel, his family had him transported to Hines V.A. Hospital, just outside of Chicago, where he would be closer to his loved ones.

When I heard that Dickie was at Hines V.A., I decided to visit him. I had told Bruce Diksas about Dickie’s misfortune and Bruce said he wanted to come along. Bruce and I were both Vietnam vets, living somewhat ragged and uncertain lives, and figured that while we were visiting Dickie we’d check out the hospital’s emergency room facilities, just in case.

I was shocked when I saw Dickie. He was slack-jawed, drooling, and pacing the hallway like a zombie. His head was misshapen, as if his skull had been squeezed in a vise. His hospital gown was stained and he smelled of piss. It was one of the saddest sights I had ever seen.

I was even more surprised when Dickie recognized me. As soon as he saw me he became animated, rushed up to me and grabbed my hand. “Tell my brother to come and get me real quick,” he said. “I got hurt in Vietnam. Tell my brother to come and get me real quick.”

“Sure, Dickie, no problem. I’ll tell him.”

When I introduced Bruce, Dickie recoiled, fearfully, at Bruce’s offer of a handshake. Then he turned to me again. “Tell my brother to come and get me real quick. I got hurt in Vietnam. Tell my brother to come and get me real quick.”

Bruce and I left the hospital pretty quickly. We didn’t have much to say on the drive back to Chicago. Finally, when we got close to the City, Bruce said, “Man, Dickie is in real bad shape. What was he like before this shit happened?”

I shrugged. “He was always a bit of a fuckup, but he was my friend. We grew up together. He and his brother, Danny, once put up 35 bucks to bail me out of jail on a disorderly conduct charge. He didn’t deserve to end up like this.”

“Nobody does.”

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