ice cream truck outside the bar

I’m sitting on a bus bench across from the Rainbo trying to get a little reading done before my shift at 8pm but it’s not happening.

First a homeless man slowly crosses to my side of the street and idles just outside my peripheral vision talking to the trashcan to the left of my bench. He leans into view, then withdraws, then leans in again. I don’t know what he’s doing but it’s distracting me from the story I’m trying to read.

Then a voice calls my name. It’s Kurt on the way to the bus stop across Division. Says he’s going to the Old Town School of Folk but I don’t make out the name of the singer he’s going to see.

Then Tim and Jenny walk up and ask what I’m doing. They’re on their way home from dinner with a parent so we talk about that a bit.

Then Matt comes up just as I’m starting to walk my bike across the street. He remarks that we’re going to the same place. Not for the same reason, I say.

I sit in the captain’s chair next to Matt waiting for 8pm to come. It’s a few minutes early but I can see Mike’s itching for a smoke so I come on early. I put on the playlist I made early in the afternoon.

Matt and Mike talk about some baseball trivia game on Matt’s phone. Mike’s surprised to learn I know a couple things about baseball. Then Katherine comes in and sits next to Matt and the baseball talk soon dies away. Mike goes home while Katherine and Matt stay a long time talking, drinking, and going outside to smoke.

Alicia and Skyler show up. Now it’s like the crew corner there. It’s busy enough that I can’t just shoot the shit with my friends. That’s okay. As I told Matt on our way in: it’s not what I’m here for.

Later, maybe midnight, I see bright colored lights filling the diamond porthole window in the bar door. Is that an ice cream truck? I ask no one in particular. A group weaves in clutching ice cream sandwiches, lemon ices, Dream Pops and the like. One of them insists I take six ice cream sandwiches to store in the freezer and share with my coworkers. He talks about how happy they’ll be when they discover them tomorrow. I mime doing what he asks then throw the half-melted things in the trash.

They’re mostly out-of-towners but I recognize Billy as a regular from my Skylark days. His face lights up when he sees me. He asks if I remember him then tells his friends I work at all the cool bars. Tells me some of these people are in a band that just played the United Center opening for the Arctic Monkeys. I try to call their music to mind but can’t. Just the feint memory of an ex-girlfriend being hung up on them.

Somebody says they rode the ice cream truck to the Rainbo from the United Center.

They look like people in a band. There are even a couple girls hanging around drinking only water, trying very hard to get their attention. I ask how the tour’s going. The one in the newsboy cap says they just started. He compliments the bar. I can’t argue with him. This is my favorite bar.

They stay till last call. The ice cream truck is long gone and Preston has to go outside and tell them not to linger smoking and gabbing by the door. After I lock up the one who gave me all the melted ice cream sandwiches is still out there waiting for his Über, smiling into the artificial glow of his phone.

I’ll be at the Chicago Literary Hall of Fame table at Printers Row Lit Fest on Saturday, noon to 2pm and Sunday, 9am-2pm. Will have copies of the new book. Come by.

Unique Thrift

Every Monday at the Unique on Halsted is half-price day. It’s kind of a zoo with aggressive bargain hunters but I brave it every few weeks. It helps that all I ever look for is frames and canvases.

Thrift-store shoppers are a taciturn bunch for the most part. Many act like sleepwalkers barely aware of anyone or anything but what they’re looking for. Navigating around them feels like intruding in their space even though it’s no more theirs than mine. Full-price stores don’t have this vibe and yet I enjoy visits to the thrift store so much more. There’s an anarchic treasure-hunt thing to these places that’s entirely absent in the ones that sell new things.

Almost every frame in my Firecat show comes from Unique and all the canvases I’ve painted views around my house this year definitely do. The paintings that were on them before I gessoed them over were mostly amateur stuff. People learning to paint or the result of a visit to one of those awful paint-and-drink places. I never pay more than $10.

For frames, I’ll sometimes make an exception. The one in the top photo was listed at $49.99 but it was Monday, so half off. It’s around 30×40 inches and I had the cashier hold it so I could race home and attach the surfboard rack I use to transport art by bike to get it home. The running around was worth it when I found that it fit an old drawing of the Rainbo almost perfectly.

I like to think that whatever history is attached to these frames and canvases adds a patina—or layer of something or other—to whatever I use them for. It’s not quite the blank slate that new material is. Perhaps it’s baggage but I like the idea of reuse or rebirth. It’s the same thing that’s at play in so much of the collage business I’ve immersed myself in. An attempt to make old things run or sing again.

Good chance I’ll be at Unique later today seeing as it’s Monday. You’ll find me by the frames.

I talked with Mallory about a really dumb movie called The Relic, set at the Field Museum here in Chicago. Was a pretty good talk anyway.

Went to a reading at Bric-a-Brac Records and all I got were these lousy drawings.

The Yard Man

I picked up Bonnie Jo Campbell’s short-story collection, American Salvage, at Myopic and got sucked right in. I’d heard her name a long time but didn’t have too much of a frame of reference. I knew she was related to the ex-girlfriend of a friend. But that’s not a reason to read a book.

She was in town recently and recorded an audio thing at Rite Liquors. Another point of connection. So when the book caught my eye, I decided it was time.

The stories are set in Michigan, around Kalamazoo, I think. I texted a friend who lives there and she confirmed it. Her characters are kind of fucked up but in engaging and unusual ways. The desolation and dead-end nature of their lives is punctured by humor all over the place.

The second story, “The Yard Man” is the one that really got to me. I liked it so much I spent an hour reading it out loud into a microphone. It’s about a guy whose dreams are so modest yet completely unrealizable. It’s so obvious and clear to him what happiness looks like. But the woman he’s with will never see it in a million years.

I know this guy so well.

Other stories in the book have more violence and ugliness. Typical small-town American shit. But that yard man and his absolute defeat is what stays with me. The way that two people who seem so right for each other just don’t live in the same galaxy, despite every outward appearance that they’re meant to be. Everything he holds dearest fills her with disgust. There’s no wishing or hoping that away.

More book-release posters…

Listen to this.