The year where I monopolized the month of January crushing can after can of PBR in my apartment, watching Bob Proctor's synopsis of THE SECRET over and over again like a congregational holiday round, not caring if all my intellectual quote-unquote well read friends who use footnotes in their writings think he’s some sort of a charlatan. The year I became David Sereda’s first friend on Facebook (something about havin’ a bond with fellow wayfarer’s named David I’m telling you). The year where I spent a small fortune on accumulating the digitalized library of Joseph Campbell after losing the bulk of my collection through the move.
The year where I became re-obsessed with the Journalism of the late Rick Baker, scribing his name on the white interior-flank of my forearm as a ritual before clambering on stage every time I read my poems in public. Thinking of the seedy taverns of my youth where he used to frequent—thinking about the working class wayward souls for whom he sloughed up his sleeves and for whom he so assiduously fought giving hope for the hapless working class arcana— the downtrodden, the disease-ridden the financially-fucked, the emotionally enervated, the perennially pissed, the eternal, the all. Paying fifty dollars for his posthumous novel “Mary, Me In search of a lost lifetime,” and crying as he combed across the arable welcome mat of the midwest taking intermittent swigs of moosehead madly seeking for the identity of a woman who had no name.
The Raymond Carver of Peoria.
The year of being interviewed for my new job two hours after watching Barrack Obama hold one palm out as if being read by a Parent-teacher league gypsy at a grade school carnival while his antipodal palm symbolically blessed the leathery forehead of Lincoln’s own bible in oath—an emblem of change, a punctuation to the absolute political inanity and democratic disgrace of the last eight years.
Somehow for me I have an errant predilection for life-altering shit happening to myself around the date of every incumbent presidential inauguration. The day after Clinton was initially sworn in I won a scholarship-slash-sojourn to England that changed my life and ultimately made me a writer (thanx Greta-Gazelle and Mark-Andrew). The day after W. Bushy was sworn in I got a job teaching inner-city truants, dropping out of college with a four hundred page manuscript tucked under my shoulder like a freshly triangular folded American flag after taps. milking the last eight years lost in a late-night haze, hurtling my heart into the icy rink of a fresh page.
The new job on the end of Heading avenue.
The job that is emotionally rewarding. The job where I pretty much am given 7 hours a night to write.
The year where I moved out of my cockroach-riddled apartment (although I still miss the Murphy bed and my library shelves) across the street from St Mark’s parish. Filching a usurped jenga stack of milk-cartons from behind Sav-a-lot, listening nonstop and full blast to Tom Petty's FULL MOON FEVER, to Peter Gabriel's SO (dreaming of Mercy and of Anne sexton) to Tracy Chapman talking about a revolution baby as I dismantled the books on my shelves like bricks from a dike and packed them. The apartment where the red-haired girl of my dreams and myself broke furniture and overturned beer chalices while dry humping on the Persian carpet in an incendiary blaze of nothing short of unalloyed love and pure metaphysical communion. Wading into the pond of each others spirit through the orifice of each others lips, the knock and sway of our clad torsos bleating for joy. Thinking about this poem by Yeats even now today as I think of her:
I went out to the hazel wood,
Because a fire was in my head,
And cut and peeled a hazel wand,
And hooked a berry to a thread;
And when white moths were on the wing,
And moth-like stars were flickering out,
I dropped the berry in a stream
And caught a little silver trout.
When I had laid it on the floor
I went to blow the fire a-flame,
But something rustled on the floor,
And some one called me by my name:
It had become a glimmering girl
With apple blossom in her hair
Who called me by my name and ran
And faded through the brightening air.
The apartment with the Wonkavator ( which was really just the interior of my kitchen cabinets clad with hundreds of diverse beer caps) and bookshelves and college kids and crazy neighbors. The house whose furniture as a whole was a collective assortment of bric-a-brac found combing the alley's behind Moss avenue and frat row in the first week of May. The apartment where I always partied with Gilbert who lived next door—Gilbert who likes a beer and a good time and makes a mean margarita and who looks like a lovable hybrid between Ben Franklin and some really nerdy yet cool dude whom you’d meet at a role-playing convention talking about his seventh level dwarf, Gilbert who Hale lived with for two years, filling a Pepsi machine in their living room with cheap “canoe” Beer—the Hamms, the Red Dog, the Blatz, The Old Style, the PBR (long live the heralding immortality of the Beer machine!!!!.) Gilbert who, along with the maternal benevolence of Diane Happ I eternally am indebted to and will never forget their encouragement and kindness that served as an air mattress for my deflated spirit those lonely and turbulent weeks.
The apartment where I said Goodbye to Tara in early spring, acolyting candles in my apartment cupping her hands and dancing slowly holding each other as if buoyed in the other’s limbs to stray off the inevitable descent of drowning, the inevitable departure. Tara with her Hippie dresses and cool azure jewelry and cool apartment replete with Buddha statue and ferret. Tara who fucks like Mt. St. Helen. Tara who loved to drink and party summer last when it felt like we were a local variation of F. Scott and Zelda as both our banter and our wit brachiated from bar stool to bar stool. Tara who I cheated on with a married woman then tried to justify it because she always openly made out with girls every time we went out. Tara who I burrowed myself in the bouquet of her arms five minutes after hearing that David Foster Wallace committed suicide last September. Tara who the last night in my apartment, made fun of my hair that I was coerced into cutting when I applied for the new job: “I’ve never seen you with short hair before David. It Just doesn’t look like you.” before we kissed for one last time, no tongue, no junior high back seat six pack hormonally induced make-out session, just a kiss, complex in its terse simplicity before she got into her car and began to drive cross country through the galloping overhead thunder storms of early spring, across lone highways of Nebraska and Kansas at night, alone with her ferret and life packed in her car, flinging across the pan handle of Texas like a fledgling stripper and a random flag pole, eventually dipping into the arid aura of New Mexico—the narrative of her life awaiting a new found genesis. A new beginning. A moist dawn of everything that is to come.
The year of flirting with Haydee at Casey’s gas station every morning often buying a cheap six pack or ersatz grape cigarillos or a newspaper or coffee before ambling back to my house via the Nuclear woods, the woods sliced between the fertile neck of heading avenue and Farmington road, the woods behind Nate Lockwoods house where we used to play growing up, the woods I immortalized in my first novel as the “Nuclear Woods” when I was living on High Street and never would have fathomed living on the cusp of the wooded meadow itself—a permeating halo of serenity ensconcing my limbs as I traipse past the oak stalks draped with snow and come across a family of deer in the winter peace of early morning.
The year saying goodbye to Gormans pub, holding my bar coaster out like a handkerchief billowing from a pier on a maiden voyage as I watched my local watering hole for the past decade slowly drift into the hangover horizon of the soon to be incumbent yesteryear. The bar that was one of the first bars in P-town top get Guinness draught on tap in the mid 90's. The bar where I drank with my fellow writer friends. The bar where I quoted Tennyson and made out with Manito-Meredith from Dr. Blouch's English class on a pool table in the back room senior year. The bar where John and I jipped work to witness the red sox win the world series. The bar where Nick-the-writer introduced me to pitchers of Guinness that would take five minutes just to pour from the tap for 14 dollars (no bar does pitchers anymore!!) going through five or six in a sitting, talking about the big boys-- Jim Harrison and George Saunders and Raymond Carver and Don Delillo and Rick Bass. Nick who phoned the library when I was out and said that he was Dave eggers and that the story I sent was accepted and when I went into work early Saturday morning and saw who had phoned I pensively walked out into the billowing November mist and smoked a cigarette and thought to myself that shit, after all this time, I somehow fucking made it before looking down into the scribble on the paper and realizing that it was a local area code. The bar where Nick and I talked about writing and watched sports—where we witnessed the televised slug-fest between Ron Artest and Ben wallace in '04 when the bar went crazy—witnessing a year later the greatest college bowl game in history, as a battered Texas defensive line somehow halted Reggie Bush and co., Vince Young blasting into the endzone on the final two-point conversation heralding an unprecedented upset.
A game that made the underdog in you want to fuckin' cry.
The ritual of egress with Nick the writer and myself, the two of us always punctuating the night with a syrupy-tangerine shot of Grand Marnier served in a translucent tulip-shaped goblet—a shot we'd toast to the writers who have somehow gone before us , who have endured volumes of solitude and shattering hurt and just plain fucking loneliness, the existential requisite of our craft, sipping the orange serum reflective and quietly, as if knowing our role as writers cosigned us the task with going back to work alone.
The bar where English majors would congregate at the end of the semester for the final class period, smoking cigarettes while slurping cheap lager, each verbally reciting one final poem. The bar where I would always saunter into my old high school classmates and try not to make mental cliffnotes about receding hairlines and burgeoning beer belly's—try not to note how age has inevitably settled into the once fertile throne of our anatomy.
The bar with stoic eyed Pete the bartender whose angular visage looked like something chiseled from granite on Easter Island. The bar where, every Wednesday we would smash tables together anticipating gratis platters of pizza.
The bar with the most depressing restroom you ever could imagine.
The bar where I spent hours laughing with the impeccable-hearted Jim Jager.
The bar where I did an unprecedented nine (count 'em) senior walks ending last May watching the now (somehow inexplicably young) college co-eds do fruity shots on top of the bar in their bras. Unbeknownst to anyone, spending the last night Gorman’s was in operation buying my Uncle a beer after he helped me move, sliding the key to my apartment under the winking bottom slit of the door, dropping my books and boxes of manuscripts in the garage of my new house before entering Gormans for the last time, buying my uncle a pilsner-pitcher of 312 before he left, sauntering into the cropped velvet haired artist I fell hard for two years earlier. The girl with the good wedding china cheekbones who spends hours dressed up like a samurai hunched over the hearth of a kiln. Having only enough money left for two PBR bottles, which is what we drank, slowly, as we sat at the bar, the two of us for the last time, and I watched the reflection of her smile tangoing in Blakean symmetry with the reflection of her laugh in the mirror in front of us, the mirror that read simply GORMANS in calligraphic emerald font.
The year where I moved back in with Uncle Mike. Mike who has always been Gandalf to my fretted-frodo. Uncle Mike with his beautiful Baha'i stories and marveling relentless enthusiasm for the faith. Uncle Mike the psychic. Uncle Mike who the first time I met him when I was living on High street told me to “look around you'll be living here someday,” and I looked back at him like he was so full of shit he should be working on a marketing campaign for Charmins. Uncle Mike who I left hanging a few years ago. Uncle Uncle Mike who used to give Psychic readings to Greta Alexander of all people. Uncle Mike who can fucking cook.
Uncle Mike who is the only person I have ever met who I swear grows younger each by calendar square.
The year of partying with ingénue-eyelided Shannon Moore on my birthday. Drinking at Mike's tap with my surrogate-soul mother Dr. Blouch and Dr. Vickroy, conversing with her cool psychologist husband about the intellectual art of implosion. We ended up that night playing pool at the Owl’s Nest.
The year of watching my cousin Matthew stand in front of the altar of whatever God there is and become ordained in the faith that raised me.
The year of monopolizing too much time on (fucking) facebook. Seeing pictures of the women I lost the virginity of my heart to years ago sprinkled in the snow of her wedding gown and thinking that she looks like a little kid playing dress up in her mommy's closet. The year of reconnecting with my brother the inimitable Ali Alibadi, whose lascivious largess is an intellectual lamppost of endless laughter and light. The year of hearing the gentle wind-chimes of Harmony Anne Dusek over the phone for the first time in fifteen years— the woman who half my lifetime earlier I let hold my heart like a grandparent allowing his knee-size lineage to sit on his lap and steer first gear as I held her on the Thames river in the winking lavender dusk of that April and somehow the narrative of my life felt complete.
The year of wildly smiling every time I read a blog creatively crafted by a certain Gazelle goddess or quickly espied and waded in a picture painted by a girl named Polly (honestly babe, how you can be that good after not picking up a brush in a decade does nothin’ short of astound me).
The year I was supposed to meet Daniela at the airport in Bloomington Illinois only her trip got rescinded at the last second, which, we joked, probably saved us a few trimesters.
The year of becoming emotionally enamored with the cyber-pulchritude steeple of renaissance light that is Carolina de Luca (of Exile, WI). ‘Nuff said.
The year of spiritually salivating over Chicago Bridgette. The artist who let me use her office phone to call a dear friend in California the first time I visited the House of worship in Wilmette. The girl with the cinnamon-hued stalactite French braid that slinks down the back cinnamon slope of her neck like a curtain rod to her dreams. The woman whose smile I tripped over and fell into like a maladroit waiter on roller blades. Bridgette with her placid sunrise over the lake shore smile that illuminates her visage like a little kid playing with light brites. Bridgette who gave me hug in the bookstore while a coifly dressed rich kid looked on in almost irritating disdain (yes!!!). Bridgette who I looked for and couldn’t find and then decided to leave and then sauntered into her leaving the architectural dome majesty of the building like it was something in slow motion cut from of a Merchant-Ivory flick.
The year my best friend John's cool martial arts diva girlfriend taught me how to break a board as in a karate chop which I succeeded on the first try. John telling me that I sliced through it like a plastic knife and a rectangular slab of leftover margerine. Kelly telling me that "That was nice, but you are supposed to scream when you break the board."
And yell I did on my second endeavor splintering the plank of wood, yelping like I was trying to get something atavsitic and primal back as the slant of my palm splashesd through the impenetrable hymen of oak.
The year of the swine flu and everyone flooding into panic although no one got very sick.
The year where I just couldn’t stop watching religulous.
The year of MJ suddenly moonwalking into the ashy scalp of the planet. The year of R and B going Gaga over a poker face; of Text-sex and tell’em with a smiley face. The year of having a ravishing woman I hardly know send me naked pictures of herself on my cell phone, which perhaps, makes it not a bad year indeed.
The year my sister Jenn (who was brilliant as Jo in Little Women) and her husband eric (who was brilliant as the lead in One flew Over the Cuckoos nest) moved to New York to pursue the vacillating glory of the stage. The year where Beth and Dan bought a summer house in Arcadia Michigan, two blocks away from the Lutheran summer camp that was my late father’s favorite place on earth. Beth who I can’t help but break into caroling the self-devised Junior League pledge every time I see her, (Ahem), “I pledge, to shop shop shop, to wear pink, to marry a man who makes six figures, to sometimes be a bitch”
The year of waking up in a cloudy bubble of intoxicated oblivion and being unable to speak in complete sentences before finding myself ensconced by the flagellating tempo of ambulance lights inside St. Mary’s cemetery. A writer friend picking me up at the hospital later that evening, screaming, haranguing, asking me when I’m going the quit prostituting my health and all I could tell him that I still can’t get over her after all these years.
I just can’t.
Realizing later that night that three years earlier I wrote a scene in the large novel that takes place in that exact same cemetery, ST. Mary’s in west Peoria, where the protagonist goes crazy and comatose and is found (albeit in a pink silo) three days later.
The year of my crazy Johnny Depp look-a-like rockstar cousin Larry from Chicago telling me that it was possible. That if he could do it anyone could do it.
The year of the Nuclear Woods.
The year of my mom really being there for me when I needed her most.
The year of Nothing makes me more happier in this pebble skipped eternity of space and time than meandering into the labyrinth that is the Bridgeport community in the south side of Chicago on a spring day, stopping by Uncle Johnny's, listening to his stories before gorging on one of his out-of-the-elliptical-gravitational-sway-of-this-planet amazing Italian Beef sandwhiches before hitting up 3rd Base (the bar, not the metaphorical adolescent sexual rung) for a few pints before wending my way to the old ball park, always with my best friend John. We saw Peavy's debut this year. We watched Quentin hit a grandslam on a perfect autumnal evening. We watched Thome nail one right above are heads--but every moment of this season, and other season, would be void without the continuity your friendship in both sports and the 90-feet betwen second and third in the often arduos pitchers ballpark of life.
The year of rediscovering One World. Hanging out with the raconteur wonder that is Shaman Paul. The year where Rachel ordered the priciest entrée on the menu and we found ourselves in a dervish alcohol-infused haze and eventually found ourselves praying for peace in a dim-lit burrow that looked like something a manacled Plato might try to escape from in the basement of the Newman Center. One world with Glover and Hannah and the liter committee. One world with dearest Dave Thompson and Matthew.
The year of reconnecting with Laurie N______ my mistress-muse for over a decade. Making love on her kitchen floor while concocting dinner in her house on the north side of town, the house with the pool and the hammock the ceiling sized bed. Hearing stories about her rich alcoholic husband who drank nothing short of one bottle of Beefeaters a day until it burned through his liver. Looking at pictures of her in her wedding dress pictorial snapped the same year I entered Kindergarten. Waking up after a long nap and walking barefoot and brandishing a Dos Equis in her backyard, telling me in her sensual Newport Cigarette monotone that sounds like jazz that she doesn’t fuck like she just turned fifty years old, while I asked her if she hears the oratorio of crickets that seem to be exploding in punctuation marks of a summer somehow ending, finding a modicum of peace stapled in the sentimental hovel of her arms. As if being single were an ocean an every three months I find myself raft mattress of a different yearning soul, feeling her lips kiss my forehead as she leaves for work in the am hours and I am left asleep somehow again all alone.
The year of drinking at seedy bars where you can smoke (where would I be without the Getaway on Western avenue that looks like something out of an Eugene O’neil play???) Shawna, who flashed me five minutes after I sat down. Smoking cheap cigars with Hale as we blast out into the pumpkin moon autumnal sunset the last Thursday of every month is search for the perfect Podunk haunt, the Road house in Elmwood, Willette’s winery in the sleepy doe-eyed southern hamlet of Manito where another lifetime ago I lived with and fell in love with a beautiful girl. (nothing like going through three hundred bucks at a tasting) the 801 club in Bartonville, the Shed with the beautiful country girl bartenders with “bad teeth and big boobs” in Buzzville.
The year of my mentor, the Great Doctor Palakeel, publishing a kick ass sleek variation of the epic of Gilgamesh and presenting it to me like a confirmation bible over kick-ass Southern-Indian cuisine.
The year of losing the copper around my birthday for four months, the metaphysical talisman that has almost always been pocketed in the indecipherable lata and longitudinal creases of my palm given to me by an eternal companion whose seismic smile alone shatters the poetic geiger counter burrowed in my chest.
Finding it four months later when I was doing room check and a resident had it on his dresser claiming that he found the copper, the thumb sized pebble of my heart in the parking lot a month earlier and kepy it because he thought it was just “a really cool looking rock.”
The year of chainsmoking my way back to a certain parkbench placidly abutting the Evantonian lakeshore, basking in the residue of her lips, the refulgent scent her smile, the warmth of her spirit, the chorus of her song.
The year of Will's monthly poetic gala's at Champs west, the Bohemian nest of local poets. The piano bar on western ave (that I still remember when it was Buzzies Ice cream, when it was staffords dairy) that is owned by my old coworkers at Jumers and that looks like the magnified interior of a clover, home to the artists in town who inspire the fuck out of me. Ethan with his goggly lank and convivial swagger and poems about Lane Stanely. Steve’s cidery beard and fondness for kick-ass spirits (Will whips up the best ol’ fashion in town, I challenge you as if in a dual to find one better). Adam who is shaped like a human exclamatory mark and who reads his work with a very sincere plowing monotone that simply defies you not to cry.
Beautiful Hannah, whose refreshing spirit and abundant enthusiasm for the art (as well as for litter) has been a blessed benchmark in my life for well over a decade.
And good ol’ Shan (god love her).
There is also classy Abby who for some reason reminds me of Virginia Woolf and who is an accomplished scribe in her own poetic inflection. Brittany whom I have known since she was single integers in age and sang Finoa Apple and who is now getting her Masters in English and who looks like she just stepped off the cover of the latest Victoria Secret catalog. Beautiful Megan who scribbles all her poems in hardback stationary notebooks and reads with the authoritative assonance of angels. Cool Alfredo who all the girls fall in love with. Sensual-lipped Anna whose poems rock my world. Groping hands with the “lock and dam” ebullience of Miss Stephenson underneath the oak helm of the bar before she empties the audience of their collective breath in one collective stanza—a poetic pillar of light escaping the podium where she stands.
And Will, the poetic avatar of P-town, a modern day Japhy Ryder pedaling up and down the gritty arteries of Western Avenue. Will, whose promulgation and promotion of the craft I love is unparalleled in the area code that shelters the current poet laureate of Illinois..
The year autumn was reserved for Princess Jessica, a poet.
Jessica who reminds me of Scout Finch smoking camel filters. Jessica who is small and waifish with a whip of scarlet hair often reeled back in a pinch behind her neck. Jessica who wears thick glasses and has cool reiki tattoos coating her entire back like armor and composes out-of-this-fucking- stratosphere damn good poetry. Jess who has a gargantuan queensryche poster vertically splattered over her bed that looks like something an avid CS Lewis scholar might mistake for a wardrobe entrance into another world.
Jess and I who the first month we were together it always rained. Jess with the cool CD collection and a two year old named after a romantic poet. Jess who I fell hard for when we parked our car amidst the stalking cement effigies of Springdale cemetery and she put on John Denver. This song.
Jess and I making love in the tangled brush of the Nuclear woods beneath the optic lens of the moon, the same gravity that holds and presses the earth in tandem to its nearest lunar orb swaying in time signature with the rhythm of our own pulse, the feral sway of our own bodies coupled with the carnal cauterwaul of unyileding confusion and hurt and need and joy.
During the day jess and I would sit in the parkbench in the Nuclear woods and read Walt Whitman and Rodney Jones and hold each other while I would sip beer between our relationship-decimating work schedules, lost in the smattering of autumnal stainglass leaves crunching below.
Jess and I who the first week of our rapport I received a verbal cyber-assault from a guy at the end of the bar who told me he was gonna kick my ass if he saw me talking to her again which only made me want to talk to her again more.
Jess and I who couldn't even make it to Christmas.
Jess who I surprised the last time I saw her at Firehouse Pizza as I lassoed my arms around her waist and kissed the bulb of hair on the back of her head while she was picking up a delivery before walking her out to her vehicle, somehow realizing that this would be our last collective moment together. Jess ask me simply to kiss her in public (which she never did before) before her vehicle shuttered away in an overture of fumes.
The year of sauntering into my surrogate sis from a decade ago, the lavishing countenance of Brooke Ferero on thanksgiving eve and telling her as I kissed the dome of her cheekbone that I am proud of her baby.
So very proud indeed.
There were other memories of course. Making more money than I have ever made in my entire life (which is still far less than 30 g's but makes me feel like the prince of Tides) and still hiding from creditors. Reading everything I can get my grubby little literary paws on. Spending Christmas with my cool cousin Brianna hours before her wedding, adhering to our holiday tradition of driving out in the country with a few beers in tandem, getting lost on the tortuous back roads of Hollis township off Tuscarora road where the leftover glacial slopes are reminiscent of Canada.
On the incipience of a new year the one memory I remember most from twenty-zero-nine transpired inside the Billy Goat Tavaran in downtown chicago. I had just been escorted off of Millennium bridge by a security officer for smoking a cigar while admiring the architecture of the newly opened Modern wing of the art institute (which looks like something I made once in summer camp with tooth and popsicle sticks) and I was pissed of at the Li-young Lee "City in which I love you." Pissed off at the hog butcher to the world. Pissed off at the city where my great grandfather worked as a bootlegger for Al capone ferrying a coal and Ice truck (stowed with moonshine) down the buegreoning industrial ash and chrome of Wabash. Pissed off that she wasn't with me. Pissed off at the superficial rich fucks walking past the lonely solitude of the poor in existenital suitcase doting existenial traipse. Pissed off at all the tottering sadness and loneliness in the world. Pissed off that, for many us, our dreams and ambitions and potential are all too often occluded to the dome of our area code.
Pissed off that I was having all these thoughts when I have lived in the United states my entire life and, sadly, unlike the bulk of the planet, have always had access to nutritious processed food. To clean water. To toilet paper. To a surplus of technology that I can utilize to assauge my existential loneliness twenty-four seven and make me feel that I am entitled to more. The advent to individualized human avarice.
Pissed off that the rich fuck who calls himself an artist by making a recursive looped video of a santa clause taking a dump purloined my grant money (I’m sorry, a recursive-looped video of a holiday harlequin taking a dump is not art and will not be considered art a century from now).
Pissed of at the city of Saul bellow and Studs Turkel and long time south sider Nelson Algren (miss reading those award stories in the trib!!!). Pissed off at the city of my beloved White Sox and vernal-meadow coating of Goose Island IPA. The city where I was blessed to introduce my mentor, George Saunders at the now defunct Barbara's Bookstore on Wells back in 2000 during the kick ass Pastoralia tour (read “Sea oak” and “The barbers unhappiness”) and then afterwards on the subway, saw the most beautiful girl toting a violin case ( remembering how smiled at me and blushed and grabbed my wrist and then, I shit you not, dissipated) I had ever seen. My fourth chapter portrait of the artist as a young man Bird woman angelic muse.
So pissed off that I did the unthinkable and went into the Billy Goat Tavern. The worlds most notorious Cubs bar.
I ate a few "doubles" my body, enervated, slouched over the lip of the bar like an over used question mark in a junior high exposition paper and began drinking. The bartender was an old man in his early sevnties and wore an all white apron like the bartenders used to wear years ago. Two other old men sat next to me on all sides. Old men who were born during the blitzkgrieg genesis of the second world war. Men who have endured bouts of cancer. Men who each wore thick glasses and had catarcts. Men whose face looked like wet-corrugated cardboard. Men who has been drinking in this damp chicago hovel, waywarly cheering on my cross town rivals since the late fifties.
Men who have been sitting in this exact bar the same day Catcher in the Rye was published.
"This is the sort've bar guys like us a place go to to get away from all the tampons and the nail polish." The guy next to me said. I lifted up my Schlitz as if in salute, seminally feeling out of place on the alcoholic wing of the geratric ward.
"She-cawg-oh ain't what it used to be though. You used to be able to smoke in here. The whole fuckin' place was just one nest of sportswriters and smoke. Now you have to fuckin' go outside to smoke. That fuckin sucks if you ask me."
I again toasted my chalice o' schlitz in Salute
We began to talk. I told him that I was a writer from downstate and that I come up here every three months just to walk around and look at people.
"If yer a writer you'd be interested to know that Mike Whoi-ko used to practically live in here."
"Who?" I ask
“Whoi-ko” He says again, as if ordering from a Sushi menu, pointing to a wall splattered with articles.
“Ryoko?” I ask. The old man nods.
“Yeah,” He says, “Harry Caray used to drink here too. As well as John Candy. But there was no one like Mike Royko."
When I ask them where former tribune columnsit Bob Greene used to imbibe he smiles.
“He used to sip tea with the all four year olds at the american girls store down the street.”
There is a collective chuckle inside the bar.
Fifty years from now Ryoko will be Kobe to Rick Baker's Michael Jordan. Both are amazing, but Baker died tragically when he was only thirty-six. The same age as Jonathon Larson who wrote RENT. The same age as Mozart.
Still Royko was damn good. Ask ask journalism major. And this was his bar.
"Royko used to drink beer and talk about the cubs right about where you are sitting.” The cool bartender dressed all in white said, handing me my third beer.
I began to sit with men and average thirty five years my senior and talk about sports. They knew that Ryne Sandberg had been coaching in P-town for the last two years and inquired if I thought he was moving up the coaching eschelons of the Cubs organization. We talked about the bears and Jay Cutler and Bobby Knox. We laughed. For over and hour we sat and drank, the elders and the wild child talking about sports.
Then something happened that I wasn't expecting. The bartender, the old man clad in a sheet of white looked both ways, grabbed my empty beer mug, filled it quickly and then placed it in front of me. When I placed my hand inside my jacket to fetch my wallet he swatted his hand down in front of his face as if warding off late-summer insects indoors. This happened three to four times, the old man, noticing my goblet was empty, looking to see if his boss was watching him, before replacing the emptiness of my mug joyfully with suds.
Jovially I'm known in over half the bars of Peoria and I always tip at least 20 percent depending if the bartender has boobs and the only thing I have ever received gratis (outside of a few cool bars I won't name) has been a completely curable case of Chlamydia courtesy of Missy the bartender at Crusens on Farmington road.
That and a few severed hearts and the occasional hangover.
But I hardly ever get a free drink especially from a bar I just dipped inside of to escape the hoi-poloi materialistic redundancy of the streets. Especially from a Cubs bar.
A man goes into the earth to be reborn. To plant something into the arable womb of the globe. The Jesus I celebrated on easter Sunday when I was five fingers old goes into the soil of the planet a man and is reborn a diety. A basic meditation ritual of Shamanism is to mediatte on slinking into the earth, sprouting out of the crust of the planet with a very Jack and the bean stalk green-like stem in which to only ascend.
That I had somehow made a fraternal bond with these gentleman who probably have less than a decade of life left here on this planet. In this bar. In this city that continues to steamroll forward and continues to change.
That mythologically this bar was for me what the male initiation rights were at the caves of les trois freres. Going into the earth, being reborn and coming out and learning how to give through heartbreak and pain and the toppling dissipation of years. Learning how to give through old age, learning how to bring forth that metaphysical copper burrowed inside of us, learning how to look at the planet in awe and wonder, learning how to bathe in the joy of this plurality of time-space, this place of existence.
Learning how to fucking love and to enjoy and to create in the place we have found ourselves for the next year. And the year after that. And beyond. Before we enter the crust of the planet for good and are unable to return.
Though I am old with wandering
Through hollow lands and hilly lands,
I will find out where she has gone,
And kiss her lips and take her hands;
And walk among long dappled grass,
And pluck till time and times are done
The silver apples of the moon,
The golden apples of the sun.
After all as a good writer friend of mine who I see every day once told me in print damn near ten years ago, "My friend, as long as we are here, we are immortal."