Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Time Traveller

December 27, 2005

Hi Gang. I had a wonderful Christmas in Chicago. Oak Park actually. My sister Mary lives there with her husband, John. Both are writers and it’s always fun to talk about writing with them and new books and writers that we like. Mary is also a photographer like me. John is also a computer programmer and was kind enough to help me put a hit counter on this blog.

I stayed at The Carleton Hotel in Oak Park. I had stayed there before, about fifteen years ago when my mother died. It’s been refurbished and the rooms are kind of grand now. I lived in Oak Park in an apartment near the Carleton approximately nine years ago. I had a job working as a manager at an Off Track Betting Parlor in downtown Chicago and later at The Empress Casino in Joliet.

Just walking around the neighborhood brought back a ton of memories. It was the first apartment I had since returning to Chicago from Studio City, California, where I owned a convenience store for four years, that went bust. I got back on my feet again in Oak Park. And my family was a real pillar of support to cheer me up after all the bad news in California. So the whole place had kind of a redemptive quality.

Even though it hasn’t been that long, walking around the neighborhood was like stepping back in Time. Some places had changed radically, others not at all. I walked past Helix Photography Store and was so damn glad that I didn’t work there anymore. I had briefly taken a job as a store clerk there for $7 an hour but the manager turned out to be a real prick.

I remember the day I quit. The guy was breaking my balls about a display case of cameras that I had set up. I just got fed up and suddenly looked him in the face and said, “This is going to be my last hour here. I’m quitting.”
He was flabbergasted. I knew he was short handed but he still treated the help like shit.
He couldn’t believe it.
“Really. Like right now. I’ll get my coat, you can mail me my check.”
I walked upstairs to get my jacket and I glanced down at him still standing there in shock at the display case. He looked like someone had hit him the face with a wet fish.

So that was a great memory. Oak Park, the home of Hemingway, has a small town feel, but an educated, cultured small town. It’s a town that supports writers, books, the arts. They have redone the library and it’s one of the grandest buildings in town.

I had so missed talking about books and writers with Mary and John. I had just finished reading “Dry” by Augusten Burroughs and was happy to give it to them. Mary gave me “The Year of Magical Thinking” by Joan Didion, just like she had promised me. I had read an excerpt in The New York Times and am looking forward to delving into it. Mary and John recommended a new book store in town, The Book Table, that sells discounted books. It was an enchanted place, quiet but busy, low key classical music playing in the background. I lost myself browsing the books in the shelves (“bookworming” as Robert Lowell referred to it), sampling many gems. I bought “The Tender Bar” by J.R. Moehringer and “Conversations With Wilder” by Cameron Crowe, both of which I had been wanting to it.

Christmas Eve I had lunch in Oak Park at Winburys with two of my brothers, Dan and Bill. Both looked healthy and in good humor. After the death of Johnny just last April they have become so much more precious to me.

I spent Christmas Day with Mary and John and their son Billy. It was sublime talking about the family and characters from The South Side where we grew up. They gave me “Dylan Thomas, A New Life” by Andrew Lycett, which looks like a glorious bio of the famous Irish poet. It’s packed with many interesting photos of Dylan, his gorgeous wife, Caitlin and his tumultuous life.

One morning I was having breakfast at The Cozy Corner and my waitress, a sarcastic woman of about 70, who so reminded me of that character actress on “McMillan and Wife” (her first name was Nancy), was talking to two guys and cracked, “Well if ya like books, this is the place ta be.” Amen.


Post a Comment

<< Home