A couple weekends ago Open Books asked me to come sketch Aleksandar Hemon, Luis Urrea, Rebecca Makkai, and Irvine Welsh read excerpts from their books with actors from Steppenwolf Theater.

In most cases the writers would take the narration or inner monologue while the actors handled dialogue.

One of the problems with book readings is that books are a polyphony but the reader, even a great one, can only give the audience one voice.

This set-up with the actors solved some of that. Still, it made me think about how different the feeling of reading is from that of performance. 

When I’m not painting pet portraits I sometimes supplement my living by working door at a couple of my favorite bars. This weekend I was at Skylark on Friday and Rainbo on Saturday. It’s an easy job for the most part. You stand at your post, check IDs, pick up empty glasses, stock up the beer coolers at the end of the night and go home. The best part though is the people-watching. I saw a guy buy every unattached girl in the bar a drink over the course of about three hours. He’d wander over to me to report on how well he was doing, “killing it…” he’d whisper, then stagger back toward his prey. He’d follow them outside if they were going to smoke, then sprint back in to drain his bowels, then hustle back out. They all talked to him and some seemed to enjoy it but I think he went home alone.

On Sunday afternoon I volunteered for Chicago Architecture Foundation’s Open House. I’d always meant to make it to this yearly event and thought being part of it might get me to do so. Unfortunately the only site I got to see was the Columbia Yacht Club, where I was stationed. I spent the first hour outside by the entrance greeting people. I’ve never done this much in my own life but it’s really true that if you smile at a stranger they will almost always smile back. I sketched DuSable Harbor. There was a red-faced, mustachioed man on one of the boats bellowing at the Bears game on the radio. In between pain sounds he’d pour himself and his wife white wine from a little table on the deck.

The last few hours of my shift were spent inside the docked former icebreaker which houses the yacht club. Our main task was to record the zip codes or countries of residence of visitors so that the organizers could get a more accurate picture of their audience. The idea of the open house is to give the public an opportunity to go inside private places they wouldn’t be able to the rest of the year.

My part was pretty much the same as at the taverns. I greeted people, checked a small bit of information, then watched them walk by. It’s the perfect kind of gig for someone like me.