Tuesday Funk

I’m working on the things that will go up on the walls of the bar in June. It’s still primarily student-time paintings altered/improved with gesso, acrylic, tape, marker, and bits of ephemera but it’s slowly changing.

I don’t know that I can pinpoint how these are different than the ones I made a year or two ago but they are. Maybe a little denser, less direct, more hermetic. I don’t know.

What I know is that I will run out of these old paintings and drawings to mangle this year or next. Then, it will be curious to find out what part of this remix/collage thing remains in how I make pictures. I can’t imagine it will ever entirely go away but can see it going more subterranean, internal. Already, new drawings I’m unsatisfied with get cycled into the new pieces rather than just discarded.

Those two skulls in the painting at the top of the letter are fragments from drawings I made in my portrait class at Dominican. They hung on the studio wall a couple weeks, then got cut up for the cause.

It’s spring break this week and rather than go rage in Fort Lauderdale I’m going to take part in a reading series. Tuesday Funk has been going over a decade and I’ve read there three or four times before. It’s a receptive audience in a welcoming room. I can’t say that for most lit world events.

Many never restarted after lockdown, so I’m grateful that Andrew and Eden got their ship sailing again.

If you’re reading this Monday, come hear me read from my last couple books tomorrow at the Hopleaf.

Talked with Mallory about Nadja. Read a few more pages from Perec’s Life: A User’s Manual into a microphone.

Made some recommendations at the bookstore.

Portrait of the Artist as

Frank writes me Wednesday morning to say Olivia called in sick and he’s trying to find a new model for that day’s class. I write back that we’ll manage. Not to worry about it. I pack my book along with the Bluetooth speaker I always bring and start the ride west.

Three years ago when I first taught out in River Forest, I tried a half dozen bike routes. This time around I’ve mostly avoided Lake Street, favoring Madison or Division for most of the trip.

My least favorite part of the route—the same for most trips north—is the mile or so along Ashland Avenue between Archer and Cermak. It’s a bleak industrial stretch with plenty of broken glass and few traffic lights. Cars gun it like it’s a speedway along this stretch and I don’t feel safe in the roadway at any hour except 3am returning from bar shifts.

The trouble is it’s the most direct way to get me to every other place I’m going. Every other option adds time and distance and I’m not about riding for the sake riding ever. It’s always a means to an end.

I get to Dominican with about half an hour to spare. I like to take my time setting up the easels and the model’s chair. Normally, I plop my bag and coat in the far corner of the room but this time all of it goes in the middle of the room. I get a pillow from the top of the equipment closet and place it on the seat of the chair I’ve chosen. I sit down and open The Books of Jacob in my lap to see how I have to hold it to be able to read both pages without moving my head. Then I sip from the Styrofoam cup of cafeteria coffee and wait for the kids to arrive.

A couple weeks ago Diego asked half-jokingly when I’d be posing for the class. I think I said when Hell freezes over. Be careful what you wish for, Diego.

For the hundreds of times I’ve drawn and painted posed people, I’ve rarely returned the favor. There’s nothing about attempting to sit still for someone else’s art and/or education that is at all appealing. Time stands still and previously unknown parts of the body ache and otherwise call attention to themselves the longer you do it. It’s a miserable experience.

When everyone who will show up shows up, I break the news to the class. I tell them if they make me ugly they’ll flunk. No one looks too worried one way or the other.

I open my book and start reading.

I’ve been chipping away at Olga Tokarczuk’s epic for over three years now. I’m around two-thirds done. In the two hours of posing, I read about forty-five pages. A good clip for me. Jacob and his followers make deals with Polish officials, wife-swap, drink, and feud with traditional Jewish sects. My legs fall asleep. My neck hurts. There are itches all over. I call it around 3pm.

In the hallway the kids put up their portraits of me next to their homework—self-portraits drawn lefthanded. Seems like most of them had a good time. I tell them about the crit when I was in art school when our teacher’s girlfriend put up a big painting of him shirtless stretched out on a couch like a beached whale watching TV. No one knew what to say then.

This was less embarrassing than that.

Wrote a bit about my time on the East Side.

Fumble

It’s Super Bowl Sunday and Mike has the game on. It’s jarring to see a TV flickering in this room. Mercifully, the sound is off. There are a few drinkers but no one but him is watching. I brought dinner from the Turkish place across the street and eat while the halftime show runs. Preston and I discuss the outfits of the singers and dancers. Mike wonders how much of what we’re looking at is a special effect or hologram. I tell him the guy is performing from home to an empty stadium.

My shift starts and almost everyone clears out. Mike lingers because the game has gone into overtime. Katherine comes in and gives Mike shit for having the game on. I insist she has money riding on the outcome.

The next day the newspaper says it was the most watched television program in history. Wherever those billions watched, it wasn’t at this bar.

It’s been extra slow since the start of the new year. That’s par for the course. It’s not the going-out season. It’s the season for bartenders to watch clocks crawl.

Around 11pm—almost three hours to go—a bald guy with a big beard comes in. He sits by the door, next to a couple who have been here a couple hours. They’re not together but clearly friends. From work, I think. The new guy keeps trying to make eye contact. Clearly wants to talk. I rack my brains for ways to avoid that.

The woman next to him is narrating her scroll through Bumble to her friend and laughing. She asks me and the new guy to join in. Soon we’re all making fun of her romantic prospects. Or, rather, the way these prospects present themselves.

Why are there so many group photos? How do you even know which one he is? Why can’t they manage to light their damn faces properly?

Her no-fly list includes any mention of ‘spirituality’ and ambivalence about children. She says repeatedly she wants them. That’s why she’s on the site. I ask if she’s just looking for a sperm donor but she insists she’s looking for love.

The new guy tells us he’s just moved in around the corner. He was born in Poland. I tell him about how this started as a Polish bar. I’m grateful I don’t have to talk to him solo. He’s telling the woman about his experiences on dating sites. I tell her I’ve never been on one. Filling out the profile was always a non-starter. I don’t know or want to know the answers to most of those questions.

Just before last call my brunch bartender and his crew come in. I always invite people from there to come visit but they rarely do. It’s a long way across town. I don’t blame them. His friends complain about his dragging them to a cash-only bar. Our ATM is busted too, but they have enough for one round.

Preston turns up the lights a few minutes later. The new friends and the old ones say goodbye and go. I wonder biking home whether the woman will match with anyone to have children with. It’s a thing I haven’t thought about for myself for a long time.

I’m grateful that ship has sailed.

I reviewed an art show, a movie, and a book. Then talked Talk to Me with Mallory.

I read the preamble of Georges Perec’s Life: A User’s Manual into a microphone.

RIP Dex Romweber. One of the all-time greats. Go listen to some Flat Duo Jets. If you’ve got Apple Music, here’s a playlist I made.

This is what I wrote about him in my book:

The first time I saw Dexter Romweber play guitar was in the Flat Duo Jets in 1990, opening for the Cramps at Cabaret Metro. I went to that show with Kent. He took photos of the headliners but didn’t take any of the Flat Duo Jets, and I wasn’t taking a sketchbook to shows yet, but Romweber left enough of an impression that I still usually try to catch him when he comes to town.

When he played the Hideout in October of 2016, he was up against a Cubs World Series game, but still, a city of several million could barely muster an audience of twenty for one of the true originals of rock music. The man’s always seemed tormented, but that night he looked on the verge of tears. It hurts to keep banging your head against a wall. Still, what else is there to do?

There weren’t many people inside. Game 3 was on the TV and aside from places which had TVs, Chicago was a ghost town. I sat at the bar and ordered a drink and watched the game. Next to me was a tall guy in a newsboy cap, flannel, and arm tattoos. He had to be Dex’s opening act. Sure enough, a few minutes later he got up and wandered back to the music room to set up. He went by One Trip Little and he played a bunch of drinking, fighting, praying, and wandering tunes. My favorite was a cover of Woody Guthrie’s “Hard, Ain’t it Hard,” a song I knew best done by my friends, the Country Melvins, about twenty years back.

At the merch table after his set, I went up to Little and showed him the sketch. He liked it enough to take a cellphone pic. I told him I was sorry it was such a sparse crowd and pointed back at the TV in lieu of an excuse. He seemed to take it in stride, or at least pretended to. Dex wasn’t on stage yet so I went back to watching the game.

There was still no score and it was getting late. I looked outside and saw Dex sitting on the steps with his head in his hands.

He didn’t have a drummer with him like he usually does. Just his old Silvertone guitar and cheap over-sized shades which Jackie Onassis might’ve worn if she shopped at Walgreen’s. The great thing about seeing Dex is you don’t ever know what he’ll play. A Link Wray instrumental will follow a crooner ballad, then a show tune, and finish with a piece of classical music. He has an encyclopedic knowledge of song. Even though there were only about twenty of us listening, we tried to make enough noise in between numbers to make him know he was appreciated.

In all the years I’ve been going to see him, Dex has never been much for acknowledging the audience, but this night he did something I’d never seen him do. As his set was winding down he suddenly put the guitar down and took the mic from the stand with a trembling hand and started talking. He said he was weary and didn’t know if it was all worth it. People shouted encouragement but he waved them off as if to say, “Thanks, but the problem’s bigger than you know.” Then he told a story about being bullied by a big black kid in school and how it scarred him enough that he was still going to therapy to fight the racist thoughts it inspired. Then he went back to playing guitar. A few minutes later he stopped again and told a story about he and his buddy getting in trouble in high school for mooning a bunch of elementary school kids. He played one more song, then said goodnight and disappeared out the back door.

At the merch table One Trip was selling records and I bought Dex’s new one. He asked whether I’d sketched Dex and I showed him what I’d done. “You should show Dex!” he said, and I nodded, but I knew I wouldn’t.