Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Chapter 15

"So he ends up getting a hand job without even kissing her. "
"How'd he pull that off?"
He looks over at me and shrugs, "I don't know, they were on J date and they hooked up. Didn't even make out. She gave him a hand job then made him banana bread."
"Hell, that was nice of her."
Joelle and Chris are in front of us and they break up laughing. They'd just taken me to my first professional baseball game, and my first professional organized sports event, period. The Cubs against the Astros. The game was tied early at one run, and it went into overtime. They stopped selling beer after the 7th inning, Joelle's whiskey flask is long emptied, and we we're walking up Sheridan to have some drinks and check out the game in the bar. We cross the street and I shoot an apartment building, change my camera setting to night scene. I talk into the camera, "What the fuck is J date?"
He looks at me and nods,
"It's a Jewish dating site."
Chris looks over his shoulder,
"Wait, she made him banana bread?"
Rich laughs, "Oh, fuck yes. Banana bread and a hand job."
"In reverse." I say.
We're in the bar now and Joelle looks across to Rich,
"So who cleaned up?"
"More importantly," I say, "Was there lube involved or was it old school?"
"I'll just text him."

He picks up his phone and texts the guy. Rich reminds me of the smartass best friend in the 80s movies. He's a funny fucker, and cool as shit. I liked him right off. I've been in Chicago for a few hours. I'd spent the day before doing a signing at One World Cafe in Peoria, where I sold some books and met some readers and ended up pounding coffee until midnight, so getting to sleep was a bitch, but I found myself in Chicago on time, at Joelle's place.
She and her husband, Chris, live there with their two kids, Lily and Sam, and Sirius the dog in the Albany Park neighborhood. Joelle's off for the summer from her teaching job, Sam's at camp and Lily's staying with a friend until the night after tomorrow, and I am drunk with them in the bar while Rich's text alert rings. He looks over at us,
"He said it was New Jersey style. No lube, no spit, nothing."
I look across the table to Chris,
Rich nods to Joelle, "And he said there was no clean up. He said his boxers took care of it."
She cringes, "Ahhh, fuck."
Rich tilts his beer toward us,
"It gets better. After she gets him off she says,'Woooooow, you did a good job.'"
"Come on."
"I'm totally fucking serious, dude."
He imitated her again, and again it's a perfect, nasal sounding, nagging Jewish woman accent. It's an expert imitation. Chris shakes his head into his beer, "So I take it he's not going to see her again."
"Oh, no. He's seeing her again this weekend. She's coming back over."
I look around the bar and outside. It's good to be here. I've never hung around this part of Chicago. I noticed that almost everybody I've seen in this city is good looking. And it feels good to be in a big city again. The game is on the tube and into the 13th or 14th inning. I was glad we'd left the stadium, but it was nice to be in the stadium, and I can safely say watching a baseball game in person is better than watching it on the screen. There was a good energy to it sitting there in the seats looking out over the diamond and watching the seagulls fly around the lights and waiting for the batter to hit one out. We hear a loud roar from down the street then look over to the screen to see that the Cubs had hit a grand slam. The whole street cheered. We order a few more and drop Rich off. Back at the house I pass out almost instantly.

In the morning, Joelle and I are walking through the North Park Campus on the way to get breakfast at her favorite neighborhood cafe. She tells me the hash is incredible there. We order an extra side with our eggs and toast. She's right, it's fucking incredible. We eat and drink coffee and talk about the drug of traveling. It's a beautiful day in Chicago. The sun is high and warm but not hot, and the food is perfect. Something about the neighborhood is good, also. It's busy and diverse and it pulses along easily. I watch a bird walk across the concrete by where we sit. I go to toss it a crumb but it sees something else and takes off.

I hadn't seen my sister, Denise, or the kids since 2004. My nieces, Quinn and Jessica had grown tall since I'd last seen them. Quinn is already writing a book. She and I had started writing a story together via email, but I got swept away with work and stress and other such bullshit. Doug and I sat on the porch and drank beer and coffee then he made some burgers, which were fucking awesome. We hung out for a few hours, caught up and I had to get back to Chicago as I couldn't stay the night because of Rufus, who is without a doubt one of the funnest dogs alive, a light-yellowish French Bulldog, so he's small and compact and lovable as they get, but introduce a dog into his environment and he's pure hell. Joelle and Chris had Meg and Chico back at their house, and I was supposed to meet up with them and hang out on the deck with Rich and the famous receiver of the New Jersey Hand Job. It had been on my mind that day. Not the hand job, but the fact that he got one without any type of foreplay.

Rich was already tired when I got back. Traffic in Chicago is almost always a fucker, and tonight was no exception. Except Rich's buddy isn't going to make it. Chris opens the garage and we stare at his '68 MG on blocks. It's become his project/part-time obsession. Three of Lily's friends show up, and the night becomes a crash course on the Jonas Brothers. It's a good night there, a good time and the kids are still alright. Rich cuts out and the kids go home and I'm again in the guest room passed out. I'm dreaming about my father. He's dead as Dillinger, but in my dream he and I are sitting at a table drinking tea while he smokes his Marbs and talks about being dead, makes jokes about the people he knows now. I hear Suspicious Minds playing on the radio sitting on top of the refrigerator behind him, and I realize that I'm 8 years old again, and he's smoking at the table getting ready to go to work, to roof houses in Phoenix. I look out the window over our pool and I see the sky is clear blue and and it's moving off beat with the radio. Behind me is the old living room, and beyond that is the Arizona Canal, and beyond that and splayed out in reflective blood are 30 years forward. The old man nods over my shoulder. I turn around and I'm awake in the bed, Sirius is out in the living room barking at something, and I sit up and let my dogs out. Joelle makes a mean cup of coffee that brings me back from the edge of the dream. It's on the tip of my tongue to tell her about it at the table, but it leaves my mind. We coffee and talk about what we're doing with the rest of the summer. Driving back to Peoria, it occurs to me that I've totally lost all concept of seasons and vacations and work weeks. My whole life now revolves around books and writing, which is fine with me. I have to get back to Peoria, pack up and get some sleep and start toward the East Coast in the morning.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Chapter 14

"I don't know, these covers and from what I've read in these books, they're kind of well, controversial, if you will."
I look around her bookstore. The place could have potential, if she wasn't such an uptight piece of shit. Her whole demeanor was laughable. She smelled like cigarettes, and she had this near British annunciation to her words. It wasn't her resistance that got to me, though. If you have a piece of work that pleases everyone, the work is not remarkable. If it pleases no one, it's not clear enough or refined or it's just plain bad. If it pleases most people who are intelligent to reasonably intelligent to at least human, then you probably have something pretty damn good. I can't complain about her not buying the books, because everything in life comes down to numbers and balance. But there was something extra about her that got to me.
"My bookstore, it caters to a different crowd, if you will. I just don't see work this graphic selling here."
"What about Henry Miller? Surely you stock him here."
"Have a good one."
I walked out to the van and looked over to the entrance. It was hot outside, humid and grey.
I should have just stayed back at the house and written today, or read or watched TV or anything. Lots of bad shit on my mind. I haven't felt like this in a while. Sometimes the road glazes over your reality. I have to sell these books, I have to keep heading onward. I think back to Hamsun's Hunger, when a cop stops him and insults him, and the character stops himself from going after the cop by reminding himself over and over, "He doesn't know any better."
I go back to the house and watch a movie with my family. In bed I watch the ceiling and think about my life from age 17 forward.

I set up my fold-out table and some books at the Riverfront Market. Twenty bucks gets you a booth. It's hot outside, and everyone has umbrellas and signage, shade for the people walking the market to stand under while they look at their wares. I set up a pathetic display, along with the dirty fold-out lawn chair from the back yard. An hour passes and the other vendors are looking at me like I'm insane. Maybe they're right, or maybe I just haven't figured out a formula for success with being an independent writer and publisher. Or maybe I'm just being a giant pussy. I fold the chair up and stand, and start talking to people as they walk past me. I say shit like,
"You like to read?" or "Are you a reader?"
Here and there, people walk over and check out the books, they flip through, read a few lines and buy. An hour and a half later, I have a few books sold. Not a ton of them, but at least I made some sales. I pack up after noon and go back to the house. There's a market in Bloomington the next morning at 7 am, and it goes for 9 hours. I call the lady and set up the space. It's 75 dollars for an outside spot but I don't care. Only problem is that it's my niece's 35th birthday party tonight. I'm not a big drinker, never have been, but tonight I will probably have a few. I have to be awake at 5 am to get showered and feed the dogs, load the van and get fuel, coffee, and be Bloomington, 3o miles east, by 6:30 to sign in. Piece of fucking cake.

I hadn't seen my cousin Brad since the summer of 1993. He's six foot five now, a father, and sells gas stations for a living, and does really well for himself and his family. We start off at The Eagle's Club, where there's karaoke and Miller Lite flowing mercilessly, so Brad buys me Jack and Cokes and we drink and kind of trip out on each other. My brother Bob is there, in all his white, crisply feathered hair glory, and the bar is lined with small buckets of miniature bottles of beer, which we drink from en masse, between the whiskey and soda. We wind up at a bar called The Dormitory, where I am now liquid. I am angry at myself because tomorrow will suck ass, hungover in the sun for 10 hours. But I have to do it. It could be a thousand dollar weekend. But the important part is that I'm here for her 35th, that I'm buzzed with family and that right now what really matters is the night at hand, which has now bled into 2 am, then 4 am at the house, then 5 am, where I turn off the alarm and shower, feed the dogs and sit in the van while it starts up.

Back in bed 20 minutes later, I stare at the ceiling again in bitter hatred for myself. Never again. Never again before I have to work. I had put the van in drive and then back in park and then pulled the keys. I'm still drunk. I'm already sweating and feeling sick. The sky is overcast but already hot. I can't in good conscience drive like this, and I can't make myself sick for a chance to sell some books. I danced with the devil, and the music hadn't stopped, so I had to get out of the van and go back inside. I had slept maybe half an hour. I admit to myself that I'm too old to pull this off today, and I walk back upstairs and lay down. Fuck it.

Andrew's friend Wally owns a boat. I've known Wally all of a week
and every night he's been raging like a fucking maniac, in between mornings of dealing with bad renters with drug and hygiene problems and living out his two week vacation from his life as an engineer. He's hard not to like, in spite of his obsession with sports. They have a friend named Brian, also known as Cowboy, for some reason. Brian is a good guy who can say a lot really fast at one time. He's animated and hyper. Aunie tells me we're going out on the boat, that it'll make me feel better for skipping the Market and sleeping until 1.

Out on the water it's beautiful. Peoria looks like a real city from there. We fuel up, head out into the river and boat south. We toss chips in the water and watch the seagulls and ducks battle. The sun is on and off. I look over the city and the industry off the river's shore.

I'm feeling better now. We're anchored in the middle of the river and I'm staring at Peoria and we're somehow drinking canned beer, or I'm somehow drinking canned beer. The rest of them are seasoned, and it made me feel lucky but also a bit green.

We pull anchor and tie off at some docks by the city. Upstairs we order pizza and joke around. It's been a good day. The food is good and we're back outside, back in the summer air, then back on the boat, where we get off track in the dark, and wind up with the propeller grinding out a muddy wake in the shallow water. It causes Andrew to lose his Captain status, and from behind the wheel Wally yells at us to get ourselves down into the cabin, to weight the front end so we don't get stuck in the mud. It's almost 10 at night and the boat curses and spits and bucks. There's a brief moment of total immobility, then the boat breaks free and we're headed back to the right part of the river, where we dock, tie off and fasten the covers.

I take the wheel of the truck and we drive back across the bridge. Sunday, 10pm. We're heading to Walmart to rent Deliverance.