Letter From Milo: Dickie Kaiser

May 21st, 2012

Dickie Kaiser was a wild Indiana boy. His father owned a rough and tumble, 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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Big Mike: The Nude Avenger

May 29th, 2011

The Bloomington area got the crap kicked out of it twice last week by severe thunderstorms and tornadoes. Hell, even the Sam’s Club lost its roof.

If the force of the Walton clan can’t stem the rage of nature, nothing can.

Outside Sam’s Club After The Wednesday Storm (photo from the Indy Star)

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The storms reminded me of a terrifying night in August some three decades ago.

My pal Sophia and I were sharing a second floor flat above a bar at Racine and Armitage. At the time, that specific neighborhood was considered to be on the edge of civilization. In fact, most Lincoln Parkers of the era would have though it far off the edge of the Earth.

Now, of course, a nearby condominium is worth its weight in gold (or, more accurately, fool’s gold in the aftermath of the real estate bubble bursting.) For all I know, the building we lived in may itself be one of the most expensive and desirable around.

My Old Apartment, Now

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We had wrap-around windows in the living room that afforded us spectacular views of the downtown skyline. At sunset, the entire place was bathed in yellow-gold rays. For us — Sophia was an art student and I was trying to figure out which creative field I wanted to be frustrated in — the apartment was a palace, albeit a strange one.

There were holes in the plaster walls along the stairwell. The little kids who lived upstairs used to climb down the fire escape and reach into Sophia’s bedroom to steal her knickknacks until she got smart and started locking her window. And the roaches! Jesus Holy Christ!

One night I brought home some food from the nearby pizza joint. I’d just gotten paid and so I decided to treat us to dinner. I stashed the package in the oven while I washed up and changed my clothes. When we were ready to eat, I pulled open the oven door and was treated to the sight of a regiment of roaches covering the wrapped bag of food like a protective shell.

Sophia shrieked. I shrieked. I’ll confess here that, given my financial situation at the time, it took me a good ten minutes before I finally decided to do the right thing and throw the food out.

My Heart Still Bleeds

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So, it’s a Friday night in late summer, 1980. The songs we were listening to included “Turning Japanese,” by the Vapors and “Boys Keep Swinging,” by David Bowie. (BTW: Going back over the Billboard Hot 100 chart for that year, I was amazed at how awful the big hits of the day were. I mean, really — the Captain and Tenille? “Escape (The Pina Colada Song)”? Styx? Air Supply? How did we survive as a nation?)

Anyway, it had been hot and humid for weeks, natch, but things seemed to be changing. Fierce winds had started blowing after sundown. We were in for the kind of dramatic thunder and lightning show that accompanies a real break in the summer weather.

I was seeing a fun little art student named Annie at the time. Annie didn’t shave her legs, which I found wildly exotic and arousing at the time. I was 24, she was 20. We did all the things that couples of that age do — which means we did one thing.

That one thing was either incorporated into all our other activities or was occupying our minds as we went about our day to day business. For instance, one early morning after dancing at O’Banion’s until it closed, we walked to Question Mark Point on the lake, next to North Avenue Beach. It was foggy as the sun was coming up, so foggy that we couldn’t even see the shore. So we figured if any early morning joggers happened to be passing by, they wouldn’t see us either. Naturally, we did that one thing right then and there.

Question Mark Point At North Avenue Beach

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Of course, it helped that we were both doing blotter acid at the time. Annie turned Day-Glo orange and then sort of pastel purple midway into the proceedings.

And so it was on that August Friday night. We’d come back to my place from dancing all night, sopping with sweat, hydrated with countless vodka tonics, and still as energized as a pair of Boston Terriers on espresso. This time we indulged in a more, shall we say, herbal mood alterer.

We went about our business, shattering land speed records and shaking the building to its foundations. Exhausted, we collapsed into something that should be described more as unconsciousness than sleep.

“Jesus Christ, Did We Do That?”

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At some point in my slumber, I heard from somewhere like six light years away my back screen door slam. The back door was right next to my bedroom. The sound lifted my consciousness only slightly enough to make me aware of the wind, which by this point had grown even stronger.

My second thought at that moment was, “Man, that’s some kind of storm heading in.”

(My first thought had been, “Um, what?” followed by uncontrollable drooling.)

I knew I had to get up to close the back door so rain wouldn’t blow in. But for a delicious moment I held out hope that the storm would suddenly, miraculously, just stop.

Then I heard the screen door slam again.

Annie stirred. “What’s that?” she asked.

“Nothing. Just the door. There’s a storm.”

Annie peered through slitted eyelids out the window. “What storm?” she said. “It’s clear out.”

“Oh no,” I said. “There’s a storm.”

“You better shut the back door,” she concluded.

This Reminds Me Of My Old Back Door

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Great, I thought, now I have to get up and do it. So I padded, unsteadily, out of the room and stood looking at the back door.

The screen door indeed was opening and closing with the whim of the wind. I stepped toward it to latch it when I saw my telescope laying on its side on the back porch.

That wouldn’t have been so odd had it not been for the fact that I kept my telescope in the living room, clear on the other end of the house.

“Wow!” I said. “What a storm!”

I heard Annie’s small voice come from the bedroom. “What?” she said.

“I said there’s a huge storm. It’s blowing stuff out of the apartment!”

“Shut the door.”

“What a Storm!”

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I figured that the wind must be blowing from the direction of the living room and it might be toppling everything Sophia and I owned onto the floor. So I tiptoed to the front of the place to shut the living room windows first.

But when I passed the dining room, I noticed my stereo wasn’t on its stand. “Jesus Christ, this is a real storm!” I whispered.

When I got to the living room, I saw that the TV was not on it’s stand either.

By now, it was becoming somewhat clear to my foggy brain that there was more going on here than weather. What, I didn’t know.

I knocked lightly on Sophia’s bedroom door. I heard a muffled, “Hmm, huh, what?”

“Sophia,” I stage whispered, “something funny is going on out here.”

“What?”

“I don’t know. I think somebody might be in….”

At that moment I froze. I was looking straight through the entire apartment toward the back door. Simultaneously, Annie stepped out of my bedroom and a young man, about 16 or 17 years old, stepped in through the screen door.

They stared at each other for what seemed a half hour. Annie, I should mention, was stark naked.

The young man reacted first. Maybe it was the sight of Annie’s unshaven legs, I don’t know. A lot of guys don’t go for that. Whatever. He gasped audibly, as if he’d been punched in the stomach.

For her part, Annie simply leaped back into the bedroom and slammed the door.

Now I reacted. “Hey, you fucker!” I screamed, “Whaddya doin’ in here?”

Which, when you think about it, is a silly thing to say. Did I really expect him to answer?

No matter, he turned his gaze toward me standing with my hands on my hips, some twenty yards away at the other end of the house, the ghostly yellow glow from the street lights bathing me.

Did I mention I was stark naked, too?

The young man’s eyes grew to the size of saucers.

“Hey!” I screamed again. (Now that I think about it, I did just what a watchdog would do. Isn’t that what barking is? Just a continuous stream of Heys?)

“Hey! Hey! Hey! Hey! Hey! Hey! Hey! Hey! Hey! Hey…!”

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The young man stood there frozen.

I moved first. I began running toward him. Running with all my appendages flapping and flopping in their unfettered glory.

Swear to god, it looked like the guy gulped.

He spun on his heels and dashed down the back stairs with me in hot pursuit.

I jumped over my upended telescope and flew down the stairs two at a time. At the bottom of the stairs, I saw my stereo and and Sophia’s TV. Obviously, he’d stashed them there as he shuttled up and down the stairs for more swag.

I stepped on some sharp pebbles and tiny shards of glass. I began howling and hopping like a madman.

The kid stopped and stared at me. He had a sort of amused look on his face, as if to say, “I know you ain’t gonna be comin’ after me no more, sucker!”

He was right. But I could still bark. I called him every name in the book, the least objectionable being “dirty motherfucker.” This scene went on for what seemed minutes — he standing there, almost daring me to come after him, and me, bare as a newborn, shouting obscenities at him.

I heard the sounds of windows being raised. I looked up to see an audience of my neighbors leaning on their window sills watching my performance.

“You Hear That Guy Yelling? I’ll Go Look.”

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The only thing I could think to do was yell out, “Call the police!”

As I climbed my back stairs to the second floor, I wondered if it might have been a tad injudicious for me, stark naked, to yell to my neighbors to call the cops. Then again, I thought as I reached my back door, it might have been the smartest thing to do.

I pulled on some pants and went back down to retrieve the stereo and the TV. The cops eventually came and filled out a report.

For the next couple of weeks, as I’d run into each of my neighbors for the first time after the incident, they greeted me with big smiles. No one mentioned seeing me in the raw even though I’m sure they were dying to.

You know, it never did storm the rest of that night. The thunder and lightning didn’t start until the next morning. It was a Saturday. I listened to my stereo while it rained. Sophia watched cartoons on her TV.

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Big Mike: What’s Goin’ On With The Birds And The Fish?

January 4th, 2011

My choice for the greatest pop record of all time is Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Goin’ On?

In addition to playing and arranging the brilliant music on the concept album, Gaye sings about the ills crushing too much of our American community at the time. It was the late 60’s and early 70s — the precise time period covered in my soon-to-be finished book, Black Comedy. That’s no coincidence.

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Marvin Gaye’s take on the world is one of my primary inspirations.

There’s war, racism, the obscene gulf between rich and poor, violence, hopelessness, the struggle for so many people merely to survive. And then there’s the environment.

Funny thing is, Marvin Gaye could have written all nine songs on the original release a half hour ago and he still would have been as cutting-edge as he was when the album came out in May, 1971.

Gaye sings for the millions of your fellow Americans who’ve been crushed by ghetto life. That’s right, your fellow Americans. I hate to pontificate (well, actually, I love to pontificate) but precious few white people in this holy land consider Americans living in squalor to be their national siblings. They are.

Anyway, Marvin Gaye can’t find any way to climb out of the shithouse other than to pray to the god of Moses and the New Testament. When you consider how entrenched the economic establishment is in this country — even that “great socialist,” Barack Obama, has packed his advisory staff with former Goldman Sachs unindicted co-conspirators — you realize we’re locked into a rigged game.

Marvin’s Theory

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Back nearly 40 years ago, Marvin Gaye concluded that the answer to all those persistent ills was Jesus. Fair enough. I don’t have to agree with him. We may as well turn to an invisible friend in the sky. That’ll work as well as anything else, I suppose.

One of the biggest hits from “What’s Goin’ On?” was the final track on Side A (trust me, kids, albums used to have sides), “Mercy Mercy Me (The Ecology.)” It was a soaring, symphonic, tragic aria. It’s been covered a million times by acts ranging from The Strokes to Boyz II Men. No one’s done it within a light year as well as Marvin Gaye.

Hell, let me just print the lyrics here:

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Whoa, oh, mercy mercy me

Oh, things ain’t what they used to be

No, no

Where did all the blue skies go?

Poison is the wind that blows

From the north and south and east

Whoa, mercy mercy me

Oh, things ain’t what they used to be

No, no

Oil wasted on the oceans

And across our seas

Fish full of mercury

Aw, oh, mercy mercy me

Aw, things ain’t what they used to be

No, no

Radiation underground and in the sky

Animals and birds who live nearby are dying

Ho, mercy mercy me

Aw, things ain’t what they used to be

What about this overcrowded land?

How much more abuse from man

Can she stand?

My sweet lord.

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I’m not in the very least ashamed to say this song can bring tears to my eyes no matter how many times I replay it — often a dozen times in a row.

So I started thinking about the song this morning after hearing an NPR report on that big bird die off in Arkansas (and the apparently unrelated fish die off on Louisiana). You know, when some 5000 red-winged blackbirds, grackles, and starlings were found dead near the town of Beebe around midnight New Year’s Eve.

Dead In Arkansas

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One Christian writer concluded that the big omnipotent, ADD-suffering, BFF in the sky is behind this avian Holocaust. Why? Something, as usual, about His Mysterious Ways. Seems more likely to me that if he is indeed responsible for the bird deaths, it’s merely because he’s being his normal murderous self.

Others are convinced that the flocks of birds collided with a spacecraft from another world. Yep. The unimaginably advanced civilization that has developed technologies sufficient to traverse the emptiness of interstellar space, keep the craft manned (or, alien-ed) for the tens of thousands of years the trek would take, and can find our tiny rock on the outskirts of our unremarkable galaxy can’t figure out a way to avoid crashing into a bunch of goddamned birds!

“What was that? Did we hit somethin’?”

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It could happen, right?

Conspiracy theorists know in their hearts the federal government is responsible for the birds whacks (scroll down to paragraph 10 in this link for details.)

And, of course, the more radical environmentalists are dead certain that the die-offs are a canary-in-a-coalmine sign that we’re all about to die. This one appeals to me — it means I won’t have to pay Benny Jay the money I owe him.

And now that the Republicans are back in power in the US House, you can be sure hearings will be held in an effort to pin the blame on Nancy Pelosi.

“I swear to god, I was nowhere near Arkansas!”

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Me? I have no idea why the birds and the fish have died in these incidents. And that’s just the point — this one’s a freaking puzzler. That’s all we have right now; the only thing we know is we don’t know.

Most of humanity, apparently, is as uncomfortable with the state of not knowing as our own Milo would be in a marriage counselor’s office. That’s why we grasp at every possible theory, no matter how lunatic, when we’re confronted with a mystery.

“Yeah, I did It. What Of It, Copper?”

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I’m content with letting the bird and fish die-offs remain a mystery until investigators and researchers can piece together the puzzle. Sometimes when animals and birds that live nearby die, it’s because some asshole has lit off a fusillade of firecrackers or a factory has dumped a few barrels of crap into the stream.

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Big Mike: Black Comedy — Lazy Weekend Recap

August 8th, 2010

Lots of new readers have come aboard within the last few weeks. No doubt many of them are feeling a tad lost, what with jumping into the deep end of Black Comedy without a lifejacket. This is your chance to catch up with the story. Herewith I present a capsule recap of each of the previous 24 excerpts we’ve published on this mighty communications colossus known as The Third City.

Black Comedy is my new novel about family, race, politics, and sundry soap opera subplots that transpired in the Galewood neighborhood on Chicago’s Northwest Side from the fall of 1967 through the summer of 1972. There are murders, divorces, scandals, riots, Mob bosses, Vietnam vets, feminists, cold cut moguls, brutal cops, self-righteous revolutionaries, a barroom brawling State’s Attorney, a closeted gay alderman, and one teenager who totals his sweet metal-flake cobalt blue Shelby Cobra Mustang, the poor sap.

Caught in the middle of this swirl of greed, suspicion, benightedness, racism, and bullying is one confused young woman, Anna Claudia Dudek, a reluctant rebel and unintentional trailblazer. She’s the first of her family to get out in the world, attend college and…, well, you’ll just have to keep reading. One more thing — the last chapter reveals who will be the next mayor of Chicago after the 2011 election. Bet you’re dying to find out, no?

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Excerpt No. 1 — Ambush At Park Nine (original running date, May 30, 2010)

It’s August, 1972. Joey Dudek, young greaser, sits in a tree at midnight waiting for the arrival of a black man whom he wants to kill. He’s trying to impress his father and clear his family’s good name. The wrong guy gets killed and the young greaser hasn’t even pulled his trigger.

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Excerpt No. 2 — Bizarre Bazaar (June 2, 2010)

Joey’s older sister, Anna Dudek, travels to Chicago’s hippie mecca, Old Town, to take in the sights and then smoke pot at Lincoln’s Statue. She meets a dreamy gonzo radical journalist named Chet Michalski. She falls for him even though he’s an arrogant son of a bitch. Abbie Hoffman makes a cameo appearance.

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Excerpt No. 3 — Dropping Out (June 5, 2010)

Anna’s new boyfriend Chet has received a disturbing letter from the Dean of Students at Northwestern University. We learn about his life as the brainy only child of Polish immigrants who work their fingers to the bone to send him to college. We follow his path from geeky egghead to wild-eyed radical.

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Excerpt No. 4 — Blood On The Wall (June 8, 2010)

Chet has decided it’s his moral duty to throw a bucket of red paint at President Johnson’s Secretary of Defense when he visits Northwestern University. Chet misses but still is expelled from Northwestern. Semi-ashamed, he makes love to Anna for the first time. The result proves the old adage, It only takes one time.

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Excerpt No. 5 — Light My Fire (June 10, 2010)

As Anna and Chet’s reproductive cells exchange genetic handshakes, she confesses to Joey that Chet has been expelled. Joey promises to keep it a secret and he does — for a good six or seven hours. He tells his and Anna’s daddy-o, Al Dudek, who in turn tells his wife Tree. Needless to say, Dudek mere and pere take a dim view of this development.

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Excerpt No. 6 — Blockbuster (June 13, 2010)

Tree Dudek has little patience for these modern broads who go to college, have sex, and do what the hell ever they want. We go back to little Tree Ranalli’s childhood in Little Sicily on the Near West Side of Chicago where she grows up with beatings, winos, and young Mobsters.

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Excerpt No. 7 — The Smart Thing To Do (June 16, 2010)

While we’re at it, we visit Al Dudek as a young man. He sells his soul to the devil — in the human form of Tree’s brothers Frankie and Louie — in exchange for getting his meat purveyor business off the ground. Frankie and Louie are members of Little Sicily’s 42 Gang, the good folks who brought you Sam Giancana, Anthony Accardo and other Outfit luminaries. Al’s new brothers-in-law have a sure-fire way to drum up business, emphasis on the word fire. Al’s indebted to them for his good fortune — only he can’t tell Tree that he’s in bed with her brothers.

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Excerpt No. 8 — We Gotta Put A Stop To This (June 19, 2010)

Al and Tree decide they must do all they can to break up Anna and Chet.

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Excerpt No. 9 — Just For Us Girls (June 19, 2010)

Tree takes Anna to Denver, Colorado, for a short trip. She tells Al they’re going for a little shopping trip. Al’s smart enough to know she’s lying. He’s also smart enough not to want to know the real reason they’re going. Colorado’s one of the few states in the Union that allow abortions on demand.

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Excerpt No. 10 — Lightning Strikes Twice (June 24, 2010)

Sure, Tree was willing to help Anna out of her jam. That doesn’t mean she isn’t going to let her daughter forget it. Tree begins to shut her daughter out — and when Tree shuts you out, you don’t exist anymore, baby. Anna tries to find solace in the arms of Chet. Whaddya know — couple of their reporductive cells exchange genetic handshakes once again!

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Excerpt No. 11 — Sambo And The Jungle Man (June 27, 2010)

Al Dudek’s best friend is the 36th Ward’s Democratic Committeeman, Jimmie “Mickey” Finnin. Mickey’s the most powerful man on the Northwest Side save for Mobsters Sam Giancana, Tony Accardo, and Jackey The Lackey Pontone. Mickey’s such a big man he can bring the Mob and City Hall together whenever it’s necessary — and believe me, it’s necessary most of the time. Al, Mickey, and Jackey all dreams that their sons will inherit their little empires. Sadly for them, Mickey’s kid Jimmie Jr — The Jungle Man — and Joey Dudek — Sambo — would like to wring each other’s neck.

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Excerpt No. 12 — Y’Know, These Tests Are Wrong Sometimes (June 30, 2010)

Anna tells Chet she’s pregnant again. It’s the last thing in the world he wants to hear.

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Excerpt No. 13 — We Gotta Help Out Our Neighbors (July 3, 2010)

Jackey Pontone has just ordered the murder of one of Al’s neighbors. This particular neighbor was guilty of not paying his taxes — oh, not to the IRS (who cares about them?) but to Jackey himself. Jackey’s a man of honor and feels a responsibility to take care of the tax-cheat’s wife now. He asks Al to help him buy the widow’s home so she can get on with her life. Al readily agrees to go in  on the deal; it just might help make Anna an honest woman again.

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Excerpt No. 14 — A Wedding Present (July 6, 2010)

Al gives Anna the house — provided she and Chet get married. Tree is aghast. In fact, she wants nothing more to do with her daughter. Anna tells Chet that her father has bought them a house. Chet’s thrilled until he learns they’ll have to get married to get it. Remember how I said finding out Anna’s pregnant was the last thing in the world he wanted to hear? Check that — learning he’ll have to get married is now officially the last thing in the world he wants to hear. But, he thinks, he will become a homeowner, a prospect about as distant as the planet Uranus for a radical gonzo journalist who wants to overthrow, well, everything. The overthrowing, he concludes, just might be a bit less of an ordeal if he actually, you know, owns something. The wedding is set for early April.

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Excerpt No. 15 — Catching Up (July 8, 2010)

The preparations are on for the big wedding. Workers are spiffing up Anna and Chet’s new house. Joey’s helping out too. On an unseasonably warm evening two days before the wedding, Joey plops into a chair after cleaning up after the workmen at his sister’s new home. He turns on the TV. Things are messed up, man. There’s a picture of that Martin Luther King character on Channel 26 accompanied by somber music. Boring! And on the regular channels, there’s only news even though the six o’clock news should have been finished an hour and a half ago. There’s pictures of cops and Negroes milling around some place called the Lorraine Motel. Damn, man, nothing’s on!

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Excerpt No. 16 — I Owe You Big Time (July 14, 2010)

The Friday before the big wedding, Joey walks down some Northwest Side streets after classes let out at Holy Cross High School. Guys are sitting on their front porches with rifles and pistols in their laps. Cop cars are prowling the neighborhoods, newly-installed shotgun racks attached to their dashboards. Smoke from the burning West Side casts a pall over Galewood. Right in front of Joey’s house sits the smashed up cobalt blue Mustang of The Jungle Man, Jimmie Finnin Jr. Joey looks inside and finds Jimmie laying across the front seat chocking on his own blood and teeth. Joey carries him into the Dudek house and helps revive him. Jimmie The Jungle Man Finnin, formerly Joey’s hated enemy, now pledges his eternal loyalty to him. “I owe you big time,” he says.

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Excerpt No. 17 — I Hate This Place (July 17, 2010)

After the rehearsal dinner, Anna eavesdrops on a back porch meeting between her father and Galewood’s most powerful men. They strategize what to do should the Negroes bust out of their burning ghettos and start running through Galewood. Jackey Pontone suggests that the destruction of the West Side just might be a blessing in disguise — they group of them might be able to buy land cheap there now. The assassination of Martin Luther King might be the best thing that could happen, he says. Upon hearing this, Anna whispers to herself, “I hate this place.”

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Excerpt No. 18 — The Happiest Day Of A Girl’s Life (July 20, 2010)

As tens of thousands of Chicago policemen, Illinois National Guardsmen, and U.S. Army troops move into position on the West Side, Anna and Chet exchange vows at St. Giles Church. Then it’s off to the Nuovo Mondo Restaurant and Banquet Hall for the reception. The whole affair starts off on a bad foot — there are two Negroes in attendance. By the time the rest of the guests regain their equilibrium, there is blood.

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Excerpt No. 19 — The Dudeks’ World (July 22, 2010)

As Chet listens intently, Anna points out all the pillars of Galewood society — as well as the clowns and snake oil salesman (and let’s face it, they’re pretty much one and the same) who have come to the wedding.

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Excerpt No. 20 — I’ll Tell You Who Public Enemy Number One Is (July 25, 2010)

The drunken State’s Attorney Eddie Halloran gets his ass whipped in a back alley brawl with a homeless wino as Anna and Chet kiss at the bridal party table.

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Excerpt No. 21 — Ain’t This America? (July 28, 2010)

Chet’s best man, Robby Waters, during his toast to the newlyweds, lectures the guests on the eveils of America. Waters is one of the founder of the Weathermen faction of the Students for a Democratic Society. He gets into a brawl with a firefighter guest who doesn’t appreciate being told he’s a bad guy and how lousy his beloved nation is. Anna takes the microphone and quiets the crowd down. Then, looking out at all the lickspittlers and con artists who run Galewood and, by extension, Chicago, she decides to tell them all they can go to hell. She and Chet run out of the banquet hall hand in hand, a scene right out of The Graduate, and escape to…, well, who knows where?

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Excerpt No. 22 — They Were Totally Into It (July 31, 2010)

Anna and Chet cash in their honeymoon tickets to Jamaica and fly instead to Cuba. Anna’s not as impressed by Castro’s revolution as Chet is and when she tells him so, he responds that she sounds stupid — just like a woman. A week after they return, Chet goes to an antiwar rally in the Loop. Chicago’s finest decide to reason with the protesters by means of their billy clubs. Chet winds up with a fat lip, a bulbous nose and cuts above both eyes. Anna has to bail him out of jail early the next morning. On the ride home, Chet tells Anna he’d like to blow the country up.

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Excerpt No. 23 — I Wonder What Anna’s Doing Right Now? (August 3, 2010)

Al throws his annual Memorial Day cookout for his neighbors and Galewood’s big shots. The cop Sal Sanfillipo, has a little too much to drink and brags about how he beat to daylights out of one of those lousy protesters at that antiwar rally in the Loop about a month ago. Al wonders if Chet was there. He hopes, for Anna’s sake, Chet hadn’t gotten the hell beaten out of him. Even more important, he misses his daughter.

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Excerpt No. 24 — You Sound Just Like My Dad (August 5, 2010)

Tree doesn’t want anybody to know it but she misses Anna, too. She sits at the front window in the middle of the night, staring at Anna and Chet’s house across the street. Chet’s busy helping plan a massive protest at the Democratic National Convention to be held in Chicago in August. Anna’s busy planning to raise a child. When Anna asks Chet to help her, he tells her raising a family is women’s work. Anna tells him he sounds like the older generation he so loathes. Chet warns her never to say that again.

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Black Comedy will continue Wednesday on The Third City

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Big Mike: Black Comedy Excerpt No. 20 — “I’ll Tell You Who Public Enemy Number One Is”

July 25th, 2010

Before we go on to today’s excerpt from my new novel-in-progress, Black Comedy, I’d like take a minute to remember Daniel Schorr. The old bird died in his sleep Friday at the age of 93. He was one of my few idols in the journalism racket. There are Ambrose Bierce, H.L. Mencken, Studs Terkel, Mike Royko, Matt Taibbi, some schmuck from the Chicago Reader by the name of Joravsky, and Schorr. If I could be a quarter as good as any of them I’d be happy. I listened to him every Saturday and Sunday morning on NPR’s Weekend Edition. Here’s how I knew Schorr was doing a bang-up job: he enraged Republicans and Democrats alike. At risk of sounding like a an old bastard (which I am,) journalism has gone all to hell of late. Thanks to the likes of Don Hewitt, Rupert Murdoch, and Roger Ailes, news reporting has become a carnival sideshow hosted by handsome and pretty airheads for the fat, the stupid, and the easily frightened. Schorr was homely and nerdy with poorly fitting dentures and messy hair. He looked lousy on TV. Good. I gave up on TV news a long time ago. While everybody else was breathlessly reporting the latest Oval Office blow job scandal or some out of context video tapes released by bullshitters who want to tap into white people’s deepest terror of brown people, Schorr just stuck to quaint concepts like issues and events. Ain’t many left like Daniel Schorr. Maybe no one. Now, read my stuff. — Big Mike

***

The dinner will consist of Italian wedding soup followed by spinach salad drizzled with juice from fresh lemons. The main course will be the guest’s choice of veal piccata accompanied by mostaccioli marinara and french-cut green beans or sole meunière served with honey-glazed pea pods and carrots and risotto alla Parmigiana. Dessert will be a choice of spumoni, cannoli, or tira misu, although Joey has already indicated he will take all three.

The band is winding down, a signal that guests should begin taking their seats. The band is Jackey Pontone’s gift to the newlyweds, the New Colony Six, a real score, everybody agrees, considering they’d hit the local charts in 1966 with the huge smash, I Confess, and have appeared on national television shows in their trademark colonial costumes. Their brand new single, I Will Always Think About You, is just now beginning to rocket up the Billboard Hot 100 chart. For Jackey, booking them for this wedding was no big deal — he merely made a couple of phone calls.

Breakthrough by the New Colony Six

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The maître d’ gives the signal for the waitresses to begin rolling in their carts. The band descends the stage and will eat in the kitchen. Already several guests begin clinking their water glasses with their butter knives, importuning Anna and Chet to kiss. The only two empty seats are Joey’s — he’s already horking in the men’s room — and Eddie Halloran’s.

The Cook County State’s Attorney wants to order his fourth highball of the young afternoon as the band leaves the stage but the bartender has stopped serving drinks. Eddie is incensed. He stomps out of the hall muttering the word fuck in all its permutations. He walks — or, more accurately, stumbles — around the corner to the parking lot where after a seemingly endless search he finds his Oldsmobile Toronado which he was standing next to when he stepped onto the lot in the first place. He opens the passenger side door and fishes under the seat until he locates his emergency fifth of Jameson’s.

Eddie Halloran fills his hip flask from the Jameson’s bottle. The flask is empty because he’d drained every last drop from it during the wedding mass at St. Giles. No one had seen him do it, of course, because he’d ducked into a confessional to slake his thirst in sanctified privacy. He had not sought the good Lord’s forgiveness for his intemperance while he was in the confessional because, he reasoned, one needs a strong bracer to make it through another of Fr. Jerome’s interminable sermons. Our Father in Heaven, Eddie Halloran thought as the Irish whiskey stung his esophagus, is not an unreasonable man.

The Confessional

A Place To Cleanse Your Soul Or Sneak A Quick Belt

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Eddie shoves the filled flask into his right rear trousers pocket where it makes a conspicuous bulge under the vent of his Marshall Field’s suit jacket. He walks — er, stumbles — into the alley behind Nuovo Mondo. He’ll need plenty of distilled strength to get through this goddamned dago dinner. These greaseballs cook everything in the goddamned world with garlic, for chrissakes. Christ in heaven, I’ll bet they put garlic in their Malt-O-Meal!

Eddie places his hand gingerly against the brick rear wall of the banquet hall, steadying himself for the short walk to the service entrance door of the place, set in from the alley, giving him a little privacy. Poor Eddie. He steps into a pile of dogshit just as he reaches the recessed entrance. “Goddamn fuckin’ prick shit,” he says. He looks around for something to wipe the shit off his oxblood wingtips. He eyes a poster stapled to the utility pole. It reads, “Rats. Public Enemy Number 1! Danger: Poison. This alley has been treated by the Department of Streets and Sanitation, Richard J. Daley, Mayor.”

Eddie rips down the poster and mutters, “Fuck you, Dick. I’m the fuckin’ State’s Attorney. I’ll tell you who public enemy number one is.”

He does as well as he can with the stiff cardboard. Still, there’s shit bits in the awl-punched holes of his wingtip. Eddie shakes his head and makes a decision. He carefully removes the shoe and tosses it into a garbage can. Satisfied, he unscrews the cap of his flask and takes a long, well-earned slurp.

Wing Tip Toe

Eddie’s Wingtip, Pre-Dogshit

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At this moment, another similarly braced soul stumbles into the alley. For Eddie Halloran, the alley is a temporary watering hole. For this newcomer, it is home, a place he has pride in. He’s not terribly pleased with the presence of a man missing a shoe sneaking booze in his alley, as if the habit is somehow undignified. “Where the fuck is your shoe?” the man asks Eddie Halloran.

“What the fuck is it to you?”

“Tough guy, huh?”

“Kiss my balls.”

The man stares at Eddie for a moment. “Hey,” he says at last. “I know you. You’re that guy from the papers.”

“That’s right,” Eddie Halloran says. “I’m Martin Luther Fuckin’ King.”

“No you ain’t. You’re that Halloran. It’s a pleasure to meetcha.” The man extends his hand toward Eddie. The two shake. The man pulls Eddie uncomfortably close to him.

“I’m Billy O’Connor. Former middleweight champ of the world. I beat Tony Zale in Soldier Field.”

Eddie Halloran isn’t the biggest fight fan in the world but he knows enough to know nobody named Billy O’Connor ever fought Tony Zale in Soldier Field for the championship of the world.

Tony Zale

Tony Zale, “The Man Of Steel,” From Gary, Indiana

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“Okay, champ,” Eddie says, pushing the man away. “That’s enough now.”

The man is highly insulted. He balls his fists. “That’s the play, huh, tough guy? Tell you what — whyncha do somethin’ about all them niggers? Or they too tough for you?”

Eddie Halloran can take all the insults you can throw at him but one. Never — ever — imply there’s a tougher man than he is. Eddie Halloran has fought a thousand fights over just such a canard — and lost every single one. He winds up and smashes his tin flask against the forehead of the man who claims he was once the middleweight champion of the world. He wasn’t, of course, but matched up with Eddie Halloran he may as well have been. The man, in whose bloodstream there is more alcohol than in Eddie Halloran’s and two other men’s, sets upon the State’s Attorney in a fury. His rapid-fire right hand pistons blows against Eddie’s face, drawing blood from his lip, his nose, and above both eyes. Eddie flails about harmlessly with both arms. He feels nothing, thanks to the general anesthetic qualities of strong Irish whiskey but he will surely know he’s been in a fight when he sobers up. Well, not exactly a fight.

After what seems many long minutes, the man’s jackhammer right arm becomes tired. Eddie Halloran sinks to the concrete, dangerously near the dogshit he’d stepped in moments before. Somehow, Eddie’s white boutonniere has wedged itself between the fingers of the man’s fist. He pulls the rosebud out and flings it disdainfully at the collapsed public official. “Here’s your flower, ya fag,” he says. “And get yourself a shoe.” He begins to walk away then remembers to add a pièce de résistance: “And do somethin’ about them niggers!”

Some fifteen minutes later, Eddie Halloran feels recuperated enough from his beating to reenter the banquet hall. Al Dudek, Mickey Finnin, Rocco Bianco, and Jackey Pontone all see his battered face and understand that Eddie simply has just done what Eddie always does. Eddie’s wife, though, slaps her hands against both her cheeks and shrieks. It’s as though she’s never seen him wearing his hamburger face when, in truth, she’s seen it dozens of times.

“Eddie,” she hollers, “what happened?”

“I fell.” With that, Eddie Halloran bestows upon his long suffering wife a look which says, Say no more about it. He calmly takes his seat next to her at table Number Three.

It is now time for the toasts.

***

Join us Wednesday for the next installment of Black Comedy.

***

Daniel Schorr

America At Its Best: Daniel Schorr

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Big Mike: Black Comedy Excerpt No. 15 — Catching Up

July 8th, 2010

Time for a recap. So far, we’ve run 14 installments from my new novel-in-progress, Black Comedy. Read on. — Big Mike

This whole crazy mess began with a greaser named Joey Dudek sitting in a tree next to The Shack in Park Nine in the middle of the night. He was waiting for Julian Perdue, a black man, to arrive for a secret meeting with Al Dudek, Joey’s old man. Joey had a gun and a pocket full of Snickers bars. Al didn’t know he was there. When Julian and Al faced each other, Joey tried to talk himself into pulling the trigger, hoping to avenge a humiliation Julian had brought upon the Dudek family. Joey tried his damnedest to muster the courage to kill a man for the first time in his life. A shot rang out. Julian and Al fell to the floor, Al bleeding to death and Julian severely wounded. Only Joey hadn’t pulled the trigger.

We went back in time to late summer 1967. Anna Dudek, Joey’s sister and Al’s daughter, met a scruffy, dreamy, Abbie Hoffman-worshipping hippie named Chet Michalski in Old Town. Chet was a journalism major at Northwestern University and a reporter for the new underground newspaper, The Seed. Chet’s parents had worked night and day to send him to Northwestern. They hoped he’d go on to get a good job and make the family proud. He had other goals — namely, the end of poverty, racism, militarism and two or three other bugaboos he was happy to expound on to anyone he’d meet. Well, Chet’s parents couldn’t say he wasn’t ambitious. Chet took his first step toward ridding the world of its evils when he tried to toss a can of red paint at President Lyndon B, Johnson’s Secretary of Defense, who was visiting the Northwestern campus. He missed. Still, he was expelled from the university.

McNamara and Clifford

Robert McNamara And His Successor, Clark Clifford — If Chet’s Aim Had Been Better, A Lot Of Lives Could Have Been Saved (Image from Life Magazine)

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The afternoon Chet intercepted the letter notifying his parents their son had been kicked out of school, he and Anna smoked pot and had sex for the first time. Their big moment came to a rousing conclusion as The Doors’ “Light My Fire” played on the radio. Oops — one of Chet’s little wrigglers penetrated Anna’s egg. After Anna told her mother, Tree Dudek, about her condition, Tree flew with her to Denver for an abortion. In the hotel room as Anna showered, Tree poked her head in the bathroom and told Anna to speed it up or they’d be late for the doctor’s appointment. Those would be among the last words Tree would ever speak to her daughter.

Ultimately, Chet’s parents would learn of the red paint incident and its fallout. They in turn expelled him from their home. He moved in with the parents of his high school best friend, Scott Rabin. Scott was out on the West Coast, studying under Nobel Prize-winning physicist Richard Feynman. His old man, David Rabin, was a long time radical who was tutored by Saul Alinsky. Mr. Rabin worked at The Woodlawn Organization on the South Side, first with Nick Van Hoffman and then with Rev. Arthur Brazier. Chet idolized David Rabin.

It was in Chet’s room at the Rabin home that he and Anna once again smoked pot and had sex. This time, the Rolling Stones’ “Under My Thumb” was playing on the radio. And — wouldn’t you know it? — Chet impregnated her a second time. When Tree learned about Anna’s indelicate condition, she became furious. She refused to help her daughter and vowed never to speak with her again. In fact, she wanted Anna out of the house. Al, on the other hand, was only concerned that the Dudeks wouldn’t be scandalized and his daughter wouldn’t be ditched by Chet. So, he worked out a deal with his Outfit capo pal Jackey (The Lackey) Pontone to buy a house down the block and give it to Anna and Chet as a wedding present — even though no nuptials had even been discussed as yet. As always, Al was being an optimist.

When Anna told Chet her father had given them a house, he was delighted. His grin faded when she told him it was to be a wedding present. But Chet was not an impractical young man. He grudgingly accepted the terms of the gift. Anna, Chet, and Al set a date for the wedding — Saturday, April 6, 1968. “It’s a good time for a wedding,” Al said. “Nothin’ ever happens in early April.”

***

Winter moves into spring. Anna and Tree have not spoken a single word to each other since January. Despite telling Al that she wanted her daughter thrown out of the house after Anna’d become pregnant a second time, Anna remains in the Dudek home on Natchez Avenue in Galewood on the Northwest Side of Chicago. Anna’s lucky she has Al on her side.

The old Mondi home on the west side of Natchez Avenue isn’t like the rest of the bungalows on the block. It’s a little bit smaller with French windows and a steep A-frame roof. It’s quaint in a way the other homes aren’t. They are like Chicago itself — strong, solid, unassuming — well, at least like Chicago likes to think of itself. The old Mondi home almost looks like a mountainside chalet, albeit one constructed of red brick with limestone detail.

Jackey Pontone helped Al Dudek purchase the home from the widow Eva Mondi, whose husband’s head was largely separated from his body by a shotgun blast on the front sidewalk. The shotgun was carried by Tony Spilotro, the city’s up and coming hit man. Spilotro’s colleague, Harry Aleman, the dean of Chicago’s professional killers, then pumped three bullets from his .357 Magnum into the chest of the fallen Carlo Mondi to make sure he wouldn’t get up and try to reassemble the pieces of his cranium. The pomegranate-colored stain Mondi’s blood had left on the concrete still was visible. Since Carlo’s untimely demise, neighbors had respectfully sidestepped the stain as they walked past the home.

Jackey Pontone has a well-earned reputation for helping out his neighbors. The widow Eva Mondi will never have to worry about money for the rest of her life. She has Jackey Pontone to thank for that. Jackey is a good neighbor and a man of honor. He was, after all, the employer of Tony Spilotro and Harry Aleman.

The first thing Al did when he took possession of the home was to have the sidewalk replaced. Then he had new gutters and downspouts put in and central air conditioning installed (the Mondis only had window units). Those tasks completed, he brought in crews to work on the inside of the place. There were painters and carpet-layers, plumbers and electricians. Al was determined to have his daughter and her soon-to-be husband move into a palace. He thought, Hell, she made a stupid mistake. Does that mean she has to suffer the rest of her life? I’munna do everything I can to give her and her husband a fresh start.

Even Joey is pitching in. Al has hired him to clean up after the workmen after school each day. Joey is now a sophomore at Holy Cross High School. He still can’t read, not in the sense of being able to understand what is written in his textbooks or the newspapers, but he can do a fairly good job with the TV Guide, say, or Playboy. He’s good with a broom and a scrub brush, though, so Al’s paying him $1.25 an hour to make the old Mondi home sparkle.

It’s almost six o’clock on Thursday, April 4th. The wedding’s only two days away. The big rehearsal dinner is tomorrow night. Joey’s at the Mondi home — er, the Dudek home…, no, wait…, the Michalski home — wiping down the windows with newspapers and vinegar. He steps back and admires the gleam on the big picture window overlooking Natchez Avenue.

At this very moment, a drifter steps into the rust-stained bathtub of the common bathroom on the third floor of a flophouse just off Mulberry Street in Memphis, Tennessee. He has carried in with him a Remington 760 Gamemaster wrapped in a ratty blanket. He unwraps the high-powered rifle and points it out the window of the bathroom, across Mulberry Street, toward the second floor balcony of a motel.

The drifter has been accepting cash payments from a variety of wealthy men who want him to take care of a problem for them. They’re paying other such drifters and shady characters as well. One of them, they are certain, will be able to get this thing taken care of.

This particular drifter peers through the scope of his Remington and fixes the cross hairs on the head of a well-dressed black man who leans on the railing and chats with some friends in the parking lot below. The drifter pulls the trigger a single time and a pointed .30-06 Springfield slug travels across Mulberry Street in a fraction of a second.

The bullet slams into the well-dressed black man’s jaw on the right side, shattering it. The momentum of the projectile disintegrates the man’s throat. It continues on to sever his spinal chord, takes a downward turn, and lodges in his shoulder. The man, now completely paralyzed, falls backward from the force of the blow. There is a fist-sized hole on the right side of his face and neck where the bullet entered his body. He cannot speak, he cannot move, and — within seconds — his heart can no longer function. The problem has been taken care of.

Naturally, Joey doesn’t know anything about all this as he walks home. It’s almost eight o’clock now. It’d been unusually warm today, nearly 80 degrees. Joey is sweating. He can’t wait to get home, mix himself up some Wyler’s lemonade, and sit in Pa’s recliner to watch a little TV. That is until Pa gets home and he’ll have to cede the seat.

The TV warms up. Joey takes a long gulp of lemonade, dribbling some on his white T-shirt. Some 35 seconds after Joey switches the TV on, a picture appears on the screen. Joey squints to check the dial from across the room. Channel 26. “D’a hell?” he says aloud. There’s only a picture of that Martin Luther King on. That and some boring music, like a funeral song. He presses the clicker. Channel 2. Walter Cronkite. “What’s the news doin’ on?” Joey says. The screen goes from Walter Cronkite to some place with a balcony and a big sign and a white Caddy and a two-toned Dodge parked in the lot. Joey squints again. He thinks he can make out the two words on the sign. He says them aloud: “Laura Mahttell.”

“Shit,” Joey says. “Nothin’s on.”

Lorraine Motel

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Big Mike: The Muppets Of Hate

August 20th, 2009

Two old birds hang out in the Barnes & Noble cafe near my house. They’re about 70 or 75, gray, wrinkled and wizened. They would remind me of the two aged balcony Muppets, Statler and Waldorf, but only if Statler and Waldorf were bitter, mean, angry pricks.

The Muppet characters were lovably ornery. The two at the cafe ooze malice out of their pores. They make Pat Buchanan look like Fozzy Bear.

I had the great and good fortune to be sitting near them Sunday. Hah! Not that it was my choice. They came in after I did and sat one table down. They love to speak loudly about the state of the world, the nation, the presidency, the economy, the assorted wars — any and all of which are going as badly as possible and can be blamed directly on liberals and Barack Obama.

I first ran into them about six months ago. I was carrying my coffee and New York Times on a rainy, chilly Tuesday morning to my seat. Tuesday’s Times is the best because the Science Times insert comes with the paper that day. All seemed right with the world.

One of the two old birds, let’s call him Waldorf, announced to his chum in a loud basso after espying my paper that he too occasionally buys the New York Times.

Statler was taken aback. “What the hell do you give those bastards your money for?”

Waldorf smirked, “I gotta know what the enemy is thinking.”

“Oh, okay,” Statler said.

I mulled advising the two to kiss the largest, fleshiest part of my anatomy but decided against it. After all, I reasoned, they’re old coots, and maybe they don’t know how loudly they’re speaking. They knew.

For the ensuing half year I’ve endured their diatribes against all things Obama, Democratic and, frankly, non-white. One day, they explained how Obama won the election.

“You ask any of these stupid idiots that voted for him,” opined Statler, “they don’t know a damned thing about Obama. They voted for him because of guilt! White guilt!”

“That’s right,” Waldorf chimed in.

“You’re goddamned right that’s right. That’s what Obama and all the rest of them play on: Oh, slavery! Poor us! You have to vote for me!

My stomach commenced digesting itself. I bit my lower lip. I ripped a hangnail off with my teeth. The two carried on with their psychoanalysis of Democratic voters until, finally, I expelled an enormous huff, meant to convey my distaste. Rather than quiet them, it only made them speak louder.

I endure these little sessions of stultification twice a week or so. Statler is usually at the cafe first. Believe it or not, he spends his time phoning long-winded protests to NBC in New York or some newspaper in, say, Cleveland for having the audacity to defend an Obama policy. Along about a half hour later, Waldorf squeals into the Barnes & Noble parking lot in his little red two-seater sportscar (I kid you not — talk about a phallus substitute!) and joins his partner in wretchedness.

(Maybe Waldorf is just a randy old thing. The manager of the cafe once told me he gave her a coupon for free lingerie from Frederick’s of Hollywood. She said that when she saw what it was, she let it flutter from her hand, as if it were poison. Waldorf pointed out that she’d dropped it. She told him she knew she had.)

That’s how it all set up Sunday, except that Waldorf’s daughter accompanied him. My first instinct was to pity the poor thing. My mistake.

The three of them rattled their newspapers, reading and flipping until their blood started to boil. “These people who believe in global warming are really sick,” the daughter said. She may as well have fired a starter’s pistol.

“Tell me about it!” Statler cried. “My nephew’s getting his college degree in environmental studies. That’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard! What’s he studying? You tell me. What the hell is he studying? How to make lies?”

“And how’s he ever gonna get a job?” the daughter said. “There aren’t any jobs in environmental studies, what the hell ever that is!”

“Oh yes there are,” Waldorf said. “Obama’s giving all these idiots jobs in this environmental studies bullshit.”

Statler and Waldorf’s daughter grunted in agreement.

“Yeah, well first he has to give all the jobs to his people, if you know what I mean,” Statler said, meaningfully.

“Oh, I know exactly what you mean,” Waldorf said. “You can’t get a job in Washington now if you’re white.”

At this point, my eyes were spinning in their sockets. I had to get up and leave, otherwise I’d have taken either Waldorf or Statler’s neck in my hands and given it a good throttling. Hate breeds hate.

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