Last Tuesday I went to Stanley’s Tavern for a book-release party. Stanley’s is situated at the corner of 43rd & Ashland, right by one of the entrances to the Union Stock Yard. It’s one of the oldest bars in the city. The book we were there to celebrate was Slaughterhouse by Dominic Pacyga. It is a history of Chicago’s stockyards, so Stanley’s was the perfect setting. I got there a little early but the place was already filling up and Pacyga was signing books as fast as the folks from U of C Press could sell them. By the 6:30 start time there was nowhere to stand, let alone sit. It was clear there wouldn’t be much reading or discussion. A few people bought books and just turned around and left—a problem any writer with a new book would love to have. Then again this wasn’t the typical lit event crowd. Most were older and seemed to have more ties to the stockyards than the world of letters. Many were either related to Pacyga or had known him since childhood.
Bill Savage, who was to lead the talk, did his best to quiet the crowd long enough to introduce the writer and assure everyone that they could go back to their drinks and conversation in a few short minutes. Then Pacyga read from his book, perched on a rung of a barstool so he could be seen just above his audience. Then it was over.
Saturday I was part of a Chicago Literary Hall of Fame reading at the Chicago Book Expo. The city was in the middle of the season’s first snowstorm as I made my way to Columbia College in the South Loop. A bunch of small presses were peddling their wares on the first floor. I made a quick circuit around the room and waved hellos to familiar faces, then went up to the eighth floor for the reading. A windowless classroom held the eight or nine event readers along with their significant others. The poster I’d designed leaned in the corner. I listened to excerpts from Bellow, Brooks, Ferber, and others, then read my bit from Winesburg, Ohio. Then it was over and I was back out in the snow after a few goodbyes.
Last fall I spent a bunch of time in the common room on the first floor of the Chicago Cultural Center. I sketched the people who came there all the time and eavesdropped on their conversations. I hope to make this one of the chapters of a book about Chicago; a kind of portrait of the city in pictures, my own version of A City on The Make. Got a ways to go before that happens, but this is a start.