Carny Kill

I don’t remember when precisely the plan got hatched. It was at one of our dinners. At Antico or Le Bouchon or Rootstock. We don’t go many other places. We’ve been meeting up to break bread and catch up for years at this point.

When my cabbie book came out John optioned it. First it was going to be a movie, then a TV show. Now, who knows? A hologram? A chip implanted directly into the frontal lobe? There’ll have to be a paragraph up top so the viewer/reader/scanner/imbiber/swallower of the future understands what a taxicab was.

A few years into the occasional meetings to talk about the project a real friendship developed.

I don’t about know you but I don’t make new friends that often. Especially in my sunset years. Friendship is typically a childhood thing. What people do before they start families, become adults, let their dreams wither and die.

That’s why I value the ones that happen so much. Would’ve been nice if Hack went Hollywood but having John to shoot the shit with counts for a lot more to me.

Anyways, he’d been telling me about this Carny Kill thing for six or seven years before he floated the idea of making a book. It was serendipity. If he wasn’t talking to a guy who makes books, it might not have occurred to him.

John’s a film director and that’s the ultimate goal of this thing. Some kind of movie. But the thing him and his friend Tony have dreamed up presents special challenges. Chief among them is the use of so many dead stars. Luke Perry, Kim Novak, Vampira, Elisha Cook, Tom Towles, and many more. There’s no way to get the rights to their likenesses. Not until new laws and new technologies are in place. But something like this is where a lot of filmed media is headed. Long-dead eminences reanimated and made to dance to an ever-changing array of new tunes.

I said yes before thinking through how much work it might be. There are over eight hundred images that needed to be resized, formatted, and laid out some way that would work in a book. I’ve never spent so much time designing a thing for anyone but myself. But who doesn’t like a challenge?

I’m not really a technology guy. The only way I can get the programs to do what I need them to is by banging my head against them enough times to shape things into the forms I’m after. It’s a messy, bruising process but it’s mine and it works. It took the time it took but I got it done and it was sent to the printer.

I got my copy just before Christmas. John started numbering, stamping, signing, and sending out copies shortly after. They are now in Europe, Asia, and all over the US.

I can’t offer you one as there are only a hundred and they’re not for sale.

But you can see and read it on your very own screen.

I was a guest on Nick Digilio’s show and talked to Jason Sanford on mine and also with Mallory about The Menu.

Preorder Claire Hopple’s Echo Chamber. I made the cover. Also, made a page where you can read/download digital versions of my books for free.


I read the book in a couple weeks then write a review in an afternoon. I feel hungover afterwards. All those hours spent with Hollywood monsters, now they’re gone and something or someone needs to take their place. But even when I was still immersed there was some resentment building up at the outer edges of my consciousness.

A couple things. The first is that when I know I’m writing a review the reading/watching/listening is already kind of ruined. The assignment establishes an artificial endpoint to the experience and kills a lot of the potential joy. Because knowing I’m expected to file a reaction can’t help but fuck up the magic. Doesn’t matter how brilliant my little book report turns out. Like dog piss in fresh fallen snow what criticism does to art is irreversible.

I don’t know that there’s any way around it but I want to acknowledge that when I play at journalism I always feel like a traitor. Selling out the thing that means the most to me. It’s so much better when no reaction is required. Well, not no reaction but no public pronouncement. No matter how humble or circumspect, a review assumes the false premise that it’s equal to the thing it rates or judges. Don’t know why this plagues me so much but it does.

The other day I was at a concert in an art gallery. Outside afterwards a guy comes up and asks for my review of what we’ve just heard. I don’t know what to say. Blurt out something flippant to make him go away. Maybe that I don’t review music. It bothers me that my take would interest anybody. I remember being irritated in elementary school when a teacher assigned book reports. My instinctive reaction was: read the fucking book yourself!

Even though I make part of my living writing glorified book reports, deep down the bad feeling about it has never gone away.

Right after filing the Bruce Wagner book report I switch gears to writing a review of Roscoe Mitchell’s art show. Mitchell is a world-renowned musician having his first show at eighty-two. So many mixed feelings wrapped up in this one.

The thing of a famous person playing at something different than what made them famous eats at anyone who’s not famous for anything. How could it not? It’s a thing that grates at any lifer, no matter their field. Somebody waltzing through doors we spend decades banging our heads against.

The challenge of writing a fair review in this case is how to keep the personal feelings at bay. I’m grateful Mitchell’s paintings aren’t awful, otherwise this would be a pill much harder to swallow. Still a bit of a trial especially considering it’s an assignment I volunteered, even lobbied, for.

That’s the strangest thing about my ambivalence at playing for the other team. I know it’s wrong but can’t help wanting to continue, to get better opportunities. I get ticked off that some other writer gets to cover a book/play/show/movie I’m interested in. But why get mad when I have so little respect for the job? It’s kind of like the time I ended up in tears after not getting first violin in All Town Honors Orchestra. I hated playing that instrument every second of the eight years I was made to do so but when I was passed up for a spot meant for someone who loved the thing and cared (and practiced), I couldn’t come to terms with the injustice of it all.

Takes talent to be so ridiculous.

Listen to my talk with musician/club owner Mike Reed and/or read my review of a ridiculous musical.

RIP Tom Verlaine. Think I listened to “Marquee Moon” more than any other record in high school and many many times since. No band sounded quite like Television.

If you go to Constellation sometime, check out my collages at the bar. Was very happy to see them up the other day.

Ramova (or ruin)

I can’t recall whether I ever ate the famous chili at the Ramova Grill. The diner on Halsted has been shuttered for years. The movie palace of the same name next door has been closed many more. Both are known to most of us in Bridgeport as fa├žades and nothing more.

When beloved neighborhood hubs close they become ghosts. There’s the occasional human-interest piece in the paper about what the place used to be. An obituary about the old owner maybe. Then the wreckers come and the carcass of the old structure is disappeared in favor of something new. But some ghosts refuse fade away.

When it was announced a few years back that a developer had purchased the husk of the Ramova with the intention of reopening it as a theater/brewery/restaurant/entertainment complex, many in the neighborhood cheered. A project like this takes full advantage of old-timers’ nostalgia and newcomers’ hope for economic renewal. The organizers present those lifeless architectural renderings of what the shiny future block will look like when the builders are done. But the gap between hopes, dreams, and reality is often a gaping one.

Years pass. There are construction delays, budgets are revised upwards, a plague descends on the land. None of it is ever foreseen though much of it should be expected.

I’m on the outside looking in like the rest until the chef/owner of the place I go for brunch every Sunday sits down next to me at the bar while I’m eating and tells me his idea. He wants a mural of what the diner used to be on the wall of the new diner that will stand in its place.

In his telling this painting will be visible from the street and a counter will run along its bottom where diners will eat their omelettes, burgers, and, of course, chili. I haven’t done a wall since a kindergarten in Boston thirty years ago but the idea appeals to me. I like having my work in public spaces where people do other things than just having to appreciate art. It’s a callback to times when painting was a part of everyday life rather than a means for rich people to hide from the tax man.

I tell the chef I’ll see what I can do.

I work up three sketches and present them after the new year. The chef seems happy and his partners do too. That said, I have no inkling whether the thing will come together. I know better than to count these particular eggs.

I’ve had enough end up all over my face not to get my hopes up. Still, a guy can dream.

Listen to a long talk with my old Art Institute professor Don Southard. Then Mallory and I talk Near Dark. I had a few more thoughts about that African art show and also wrote about the new play at Trap Door.