Tracy, of Chicago

Tracy, of Chicago

In the mid 60’s, the Sunday funnies were a portal to another world.  They were really great then.  My favorite strip was Dick Tracy, for all kinds of reasons.  For one, it took place in Chicago and Tracy was square of jaw and heroic.  He dealt out justice with a Calvinist zeal that was shockingly violent for a newspaper.  It was also impeccably rendered.  Whenever people ask me who my favorite artists are, Chester Gould is at the top of a very small list.  I especially loved the bad guys in Dick Tracy; entities so evil that their transgression was manifested into their very physicality. Fly-Face, The Brow, The Mole with his giant proboscis and his beady eyes. . .Stooge Viller, A Fixer, Big Boy Caprice and Prune-Face, who had so much loose skin he had a pouch in his neck where he stashed jewels and swag and cash.  They were mutants.

I met Mr. Gould when I was eight years old.   My father was driving through the Woodstock area and he pointed out Chester Gould’s house to me.   I made him stop the car.  My dad asked me if I wanted to meet Gould and I screamed, “Yeah!”   He told me to walk up to the door and knock and to tell Mr. Gould who I was.  (Like I was anybody.)  I did.  The door opened and an older man with white hair and rimless glasses looked down at me.  I said, “Mr. Gould, I’m Tony Fitzpatrick and I’m a Crimestopper.”  The Crimestoppers were Chester Gould’s own private rat-squad of kids who’d call the cops if they saw a crime being committed.  I never actually dimed anyone, but he didn’t know that.  He was a really nice man.  He drew me a picture of Dick Tracy with his two-way wrist radio and I had it for years.

At a certain point, Mr. Gould told me to keep an eye out for “your long-hairs. . .your hippies. . .the malcontents and no-goodnicks who were calling the police names.”   I assured him that, “They’re filthy people, Mr. Gould,” and that concluded our visit.

What he didn’t know was that two years later I would find MAD Magazine and be king of the malcontents and no-goodnicks.  If Chester Gould was right-wing, he came by it honestly.  He was from Pawnee, Oklahoma and had a great respect for law men from an early age.  He was certainly a conservative, but not so much that he didn’t make time to be nice to a kid who’d knocked on his door.

The comics and MAD Magazine were my portals of sanity as a kid.  MAD assured me that the authority I loathed was well-worth loathing.  The hall monitors of the world were assholes and the only people who changed anything for the better were. . .different.  What I loved about comics and MAD were that they were the world the adults I knew had no place in and no purchase on.

Guys like Chester Gould, Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko, Harvey Kurtzman, Don Martin, Big Daddy Roth and Wally Wood made me want to be an artist. Everything else was for squares and assholes.  I loved The Hulk and X-Men and all of the mutant comics.  I had a Rat Fink figure that I once went to war over with a whole neighborhood, pelting kids with hands full of stones from a parking lot, until they gave it back.  A kid named Jay Forsberg stole my Dick Tracy hand puppet and I stomped a mud hole in his ass until he gave it back.  If anybody fucked around with my comic books, it was war.  I never brought them to school because bigger galoots would take them off me.

I never fucked around with the Archie comics or Disney stuff.  Those were for  girls.

I liked mutant comics, where everyone was fucked up and conflicted.

In a perfect world,  parents would buy their kids comics and be happy they are reading.  My mother did.  Other parents bought into the jive wolf-tickets our Teachers were selling–that comics and MAD encouraged juvenile delinquency.  Hey, I needed no help from MAD.  I became  an accomplished delinquent without any encouragement from comics.

In fifth grade we had a knuckle-dragging dickhead named Mr. Mandeville who would rip our comics up and throw them out if he caught us with them.  He destroyed one of my really early X-Men comic books and we went to war–flaming bags of dog shit in his car.  We’d piss in his desk drawers after school and draw giant dicks on his yellow MG with magic markers.  He was a shit kicker from Indiana who’d try to get us to read slop like the Hardy Boys and Highlights Magazine.   Fuck you.  That drivel was strictly for the dentist’s office.

We hated this guy.  He was a Goo-Goo; a do-gooder whose job it was to “improve our minds.”  He pitched a lot of Jesus shit and we thought he was a puke.  He once took my Big Little Book of Dick Tracy that my mother had given me for my birthday.  I told another teacher, Mr. Gilles, and he got it back for me.  I could hear him through the door, “What the fuck is wrong with you?  That kid is nuts.  Do you like dog shit in your car?  Jesus Christ, give him his fucking book back.  You don’t know what that kid will do.”

I got my book back.

Published in: on July 28, 2011 at 4:20 pm  Leave a Comment  
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The Radio SwanI never think much about my Irishness.   My parents were not the “kiss me I’m Irish” types, though they were both very proud of their immigrant grandparents, and from them learned of the ugly anti-Irish sentiments when they first got off the boat.  In the 1850s and ’60s, New York, Ellis Island and Irish men were, more often than not, conscripted immediately into the Union Infantry, where they became mostly cannon fodder.  My father made it clear to me that we were Americans–before anything else.

When people would remark to my father about being Irish, he would pointedly tell them he was an American.   My father’s cultural identity was thoroughly about this country; the one his ancestors fought so hard to get to.   He was a WWII vet who invaded Okinawa.   On days like this, I think of my father’s continuing sacrifices in this life; for family, for country.   He was always serving some purpose besides his own, he and my mother.

It has been twelve years since my dad died and his ghosts, fear and sense of duty, still have an active purchase on my own psyche.

Recently, HBO started  re-broadcasting its new series, “The Pacific.”

I watched the first episode of “The Pacific” with some trepidation.  My dad never discussed the war with me until the very end of his life, and even then, not in great detail.   Suffice to say it had a lasting effect on him.   Every time a flashbulb went off, every time a car backfired, every time there were sudden bursts of light, I think my father revisited that dinky, ashen island full of heat, dirt, flies and death.

I take every opportunity to tell my kids of my father’s service to his country; that 60 years ago he and three million other 19-year olds saved the world.  I remind them that their Irish great-great-grandmother made passage here when Abraham Lincoln was still president.  I tell them that the Irish use language better than anyone else on the planet, with the exception of Latin writers–that’s a tie.

The swans are like beautiful black veils of death for me.

My father and I had a complicated relationship; I put many gray hairs on his head.  I got in an immense amount of trouble; the only one of my siblings to do so.  We fought each other with words and fists.  His love could be brutal.  I rejected the Catholic faith that he and my mother held dear.  I hated school and authority, and thought my teachers were mostly dipshits (with a few exceptions, I wasn’t wrong).  I only wanted to draw pictures and be left the fuck alone. The world my father represented didn’t make a lot of sense to me, and in a lot of ways, still doesn’t.

My father and I often battled at the dinner table.  He would tell me that at my age he was off fighting a war and I didn’t know a goddamn thing about the world.  My father invaded Okinawa in WWII; a bloody, bestial engagement in which Americans took the islands inch-by-bloody-inch in some of the ugliest warfare ever engaged.  I never knew.  My father did not discuss the war other than to say I had no idea.  He was right.

The day my father’s ship, The U.S.S. Noble, approached Okinawa, he saw a number of black swans lolling on the bloody water off  Okinawa, like black death flowers, rising and falling, tidally, on the waves.  He remembered this is when he started to be afraid.

At the end of my dad’s life, when he was in hospice, I would visit him every day and try to have conversations.  It was difficult given that he was on a morphine drip.  He would often tell me there was a Japanese soldier in the hallway.  I thought maybe my father was mistaking one of the doctors for the soldier, but he said no.  He kept insisting there was a Japanese soldier lurking in the hall.  I asked him why he thought he was out there and my father replied, “To forgive me.”

Published in: on July 27, 2011 at 1:00 am  Comments (1)  
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Little King

Little KingNever let it be said that we haven’t tried Republicans here in Chicago.  We have.  In the  teens and twenties of the last century we had our last Republican mayor; William Hale Thompson or “Big Bill,” as he liked to be known.  He was a piggish fat-ass of the Diamond Jim Brady mold.  He liked bourbon, whores and gambling. . .so he wasn’t all bad.  He was owned by the mob; first by Big Jim Colosimo, the gentleman gangster of Chicago’s Levee district and then by Johnny Torrio and Al Capone.  The bloody Chicago race riot occurred on his watch wherein he let white cops brutalize African Americans with impunity all over the south side in 1919. Thompson was as corrupt as the day was long and even the Tribune, a bastion of Republicanism (still is)– wrote that his administration meant “filth, corruption, obscenity, idiocy and bankruptcy; not to mention moronic buffoonery, barbaric crime and triumphant hoodlumism.”  In other words, he’d be right at home in today’s Republican Party.

Capone used to send brown paper bags full of cash over to Thompson at the Russian Baths where, legend has it, the lard ass would have his weekly schvitz.  He would call Capone’s lackeys and instruct them to, “Bring me my lunch.”   Thirty or so minutes later, a brown paper bag full of cash would appear.  I know this because as a kid I caddied for an old Italian gentleman whose job it was to deliver the scratch.  Thompson was fond of the Everleigh Club, Chicago’s most infamous brothel, run by two sisters of the same name.  He had a thing for chubby redheads and, it was hinted, that more than once contracted the clap.

He was not without a sense of humor.  He once held a debate between himself and two live rats that he claimed represented his opponents.  He also routinely threatened to punch out the King of England (like I said, he wasn’t all bad).  He was finally defeated by Anton Cermak, whom he referred to as a “Bohunk” while campaigning against him.

Cermak cleaned his clock in the election.  His background clearly resonated with a city comprised of immigrants.  Out of office, Thompson continued trying to stay in the public eye with more acts of self-aggrandizing douchebaggery.

It’s sad to me that Republicans chose the elephant for their symbol.  I love elephants.  They’re intelligent, sensitive, majestic and mostly gentle.  When I hear of people hunting them, it depresses me.   As John Huston once said, “It is a sin to kill an elephant.”  There is really no good reason to kill one.  Here and there, stories come out of Africa of an elephant stomping the holy dogshit out of some guy who was trying to shoot it.  I love these stories.  I’ve always wanted to go hunting, with my friends, for the people who feel the need to shoot animals.  We have talked about having them mounted and stuffed in their LL Bean shooting vests and with that surprised look captured on their face when someone busts a cap through their pancreas.  Or maybe just mount the head, with that cool, bright orange Elmer Fudd hat.

We’d be sporting about it–maybe just shoot them with bow and arrows–get some of those cool five-sided razor arrowheads and a crossbow and pound them with a  gut shot that gouts blood and is more merciful.
Imagine the duck hunter’s surprise when, after blowing on his little fart noise maker, he stands up to aim his shotgun, and I blow his gray matter all over his dinghy.  This could be great fun!  An extra element of excitement for the big Bwana hunter-guy–to be hunted. . .while you’re hunting; level the playing field a bit.

One of my fondest memories of elephants was watching them finally let Ziggy; a six-ton Indian elephant, outside after he’d killed his trainer at Brookfield Zoo.  They hadn’t let him out in something like 30 years and when he finally got out it was emotional.  Here again, it was not the animal’s fault.  They had him doing all kinds of asshole tricks and finally he wasn’t having anymore and when the trainer fucked with him, Ziggy stomped a mud hole in his ass.  This was in 1941.  They didn’t let Ziggy outside again until 1970.  The cruelty of this is beyond measure.  Letting zoos and circuses even have elephants anymore bothers me to know end.  How about this?  Leave them the fuck alone!  Let them live in their natural habitat and stop encroaching on it. You want to see an elephant?  Watch them on TV.  Stay the fuck out of their yard, their countries and their lives.

When I was a kid, my dad would take us to the circus.  On occasion, he’d pull around to the back of the Chicago Stadium and, in the dead of winter, I’d watch this kid walk six Indian elephants in–trunk to tail– through the gray west side of Chicago.  It is one of the sights I’ve never forgotten that  revealed this city’s magic to me.

Published in: on July 20, 2011 at 5:50 pm  Comments (1)  

Chicago Snowman

Chicago Snowman
In addition to mimes, insurance guys, clowns, Jehovah’s Witnesses and nuns, snowmen are among the creepiest of entities, especially in Chicago.  By the time the sun  starts them on  their slow, shape-shifting erosion, they’ve been pissed on copiously by dogs, drunks and homeless dudes.  Invariably someone tries to piss their name into Frosty while circling, and falls on his ass because, there it is: three and-a-half feet away. . .the ass-print.

The snowman has also been splashed by slush from traffic and now has the pallor and appeal of the Unabomber.
Once they get skinny from the slow melt, I feel like they become their truest creepy selves.  The coal eyes sink deep like Anne Coulter and there are piss-divots covering the body.  They are like the witch hags from Macbeth.  In real life they never look like that happy asshole on the Christmas card.  They look like the old dude Anna Nicole Smith married.

Even the newly-minted round ones look like desperate, sweaty and over-weight salesmen; the clammy fuckers who try to sell you timeshares in some Arizona shithole where they eat locusts and gophers.

I don’t know how snowmen ever caught on.  From the time I was a kid, all we ever did to snowmen was tip them over, kick their heads off and piss on them.  When we got older, we’d switch out the carrot nose with a prodigious rubber dick and for days, the neighbors would not notice. . .and nobody told them.

I remember the day the Mother finally noticed.  She was backing her station wagon out of the drive-way and the was eye level with the dong.  All of the sudden, the wagon came to an abrupt halt.   She came scampering out of the car  yelling,  “Jesus Christ!  JESUS CHRIST!  Oh, God!  It’s a cock. . .a big, dirty cock!”

We were killing ourselves laughing.  My friend, Rich, laughed so hard, he puked.

She looked over at us and threatened to call our parents, which met with a chorus of, “fuck you’s,” “blow me’s,” as well as one,  “You can keep the dick.”

As a kid, we made snow forts and had snowball wars with each other.  There were 14 or 15 of us ranging in age from 9 to 12, and we were bastards.  We also loved to throw snowballs at cars.  There was an old codger named Clarence Owens who would lose his fucking mind and get out of his car and yell and scream about what rotten  kids we were and how we all belonged in Boys Town; how Father Flanagan would straighten our asses out.  We hadn’t a clue what he was  yelling about, but he would hop out of his Rambler and scream his fucking head off.  It was a hoot.  He would conclude with, “Yer all a bunch of rat-fuckers!  Rat fuckers, all of you’s!” which made us howl with laughter.

We hid behind this kid David Bear’s house, whose yard abutted the Carbray’s lot and had no fence, offering us the cleanest get away and obstacle-free egress.   We’d wait for the car-fulls of greaser dickheads and then pelt their shitty bondo-job beaters with snowballs.

They’d always chase us. . .we’d always lose them.  Once in a while, if it were only one or two greasers, we wouldn’t run at all.  One off my really tough-guy friends, Eddie Josephi, asked me, “Why are we running from these pussies?”
and we realized there were ten of us and only two of them.  Tidally, the awareness came upon us like a pack of feral dogs and the Custer rules kicked in.  Pretty soon we were chasing them.  They jumped back in their car and we proceeded to kick huge fucking dents in it.

The earliest illustrations of snowmen are of a crude one in the Hague from a book from 1380.  They are probably way older.

In Asia, snowmen are usually only two round spheres of snow instead of three.

Bethel, Maine has the record for the largest “snow woman”–130 feet tall, 9,000,000 pounds–proof that there isn’t fuck-all to do in Maine except slop around in snow nine months a year or cook meth.

In Jo Nesbo’s Swede thriller, Snowman, the mother of a boy named Jonas goes missing and he is continually tormented by a snowman in his yard who is oddly facing the house he lives in.  The night his mother goes missing, the snowman is wearing her scarf.   Nesbo is the latest in the long line of exquisite Swede thriller writers that started with Steig Larsen’s, Girl with the Dragon Tattoo series and the lovely and eerie television series
The Killing, which is also based on a Swedish television show.  The books are set in the gloom and gray of Scandinavian winters which oddly, are not unlike Chicago winters; six months of grey layer-cake skies and slush.  They are wonderful books that lead one to believe there is something in the water over there.

My friend, the artist Donald Owen Colley, is the greatest draftsman I know and his brawling, drunken and degenerate snowmen are the funniest goddamned things I have ever seen.  They are also scary as hell, in a visceral way.  There is a masterpiece of American comic violence of one snowman straddling another and stabbing it with its own carrot-nose.  I nearly pissed myself when I saw this piece.  Colley  is an amazing artist.  Google him.  You won’t be disappointed.  His hobo-clowns are as genuinely realized as a Jim Thompson novel.  He uses tile, paper and various other media with expert acuity and he also makes exquisite etchings.

The bitter American vein of comic and the pulps run through his work–anger and humor in a voluble mix–yet it is all his own.  The guy is a master.  Check him out.

My first winter in Ukrainian Village, one of my grumpy neighbors waltzed down the street one night brandishing an aluminum bat.  The Yuppie couple across the street had had a Christmas Eggnog soiree, (this is the same asshole with the fucking leaf blower at 7 a.m.) where all of the assholes went outside and built a snowman with a wreath and a candle sticking out of his head.  They stood around it, like dopes, and sang fucking carols at 11 o’clock at night.   After they went in, Uli came down the street,  half awake with his bat, and demolished the  fucking snowman–beat it to a pile of snow and sticks and waxy shit in about three minutes.  I laughed so hard I thought I was going to vapor lock.  Fuck, it was funny.  They stood in the window, mouths agape and watched.   None of them ventured outside.  Uli shouted as he walked away, “People’s are trying to sleep!  Son-a-ma-beeshes!  (“sons of bitches“)  Shut up with yourself!”

The next day, I sent Uli a bottle of Stoli.

Published in: on July 13, 2011 at 11:20 am  Comments (3)  

The Tool

The ToolOn occasion, in life, one meets the irredeemable shithead.

The asshole’s asshole. The Pork-sword who cannot find his better self–or get out of his own way. The art world is fairly littered with them. The slack-jawed dip-shit, who is convinced they know a lot more than they do.

The Tool.

I remember the first time I heard this word used to cast aspersion. I was 15 and I lied about my age to get a job at the local Taco Bell in Lombard, Illinois, which believe me, is its own punishment.

The parking lot was the preening ground for the last generation of actual greasers; a collection of monosyllabic asswipes who’d dropped out of high school. The cops ate free at Taco Bell, which, given the amount of trouble in the parking lot, was actually not a bad idea. They responded quickly and mostly fairly. You’d have the odd cop-on-greaser beating here and there, but I never minded those.

My manager was a twitchy hillbilly named Bill who had knocked-up his ill tempered 17-year old girlfriend and was preparing to marry her and go as far as he could in the Taco Bell organization.  Bill was an okay guy; a little naive about his job, but basically decent.  For about a hundred and a quarter a week they ran Bill like a fucking sled dog.  The guy worked 60-70 hours a week and, on occasion, would slip into the walk-in and nap standing up.  I felt bad for the guy.  He was doing the right thing by his girl and preparing to take on the responsibility of a family.  As bosses go, he wasn’t a bad guy.

He had a collection of delinquent assholes working for him, including me.  We were impossible.  We gave away free food to our friends.  One guy dealt pot out the back door and very often there were feel-up sessions in the place after hours.  Bill was as cool as he could be with us given his job title.  You had to screw up pretty badly to get canned.  He was easygoing most of the time.

One day a goody-two-shoes dickhead named Bob Holby came into our midst.  He was a D-bag who would rat us out to Roger, the other manager who was a former marine.  He was a tough Mexican guy who didn’t like us much but let Bill deal with us (the night shift) whom he referred to as, “The Animals.” Bob followed Roger around kissing his ass and brown-nosing every chance he got.  Even Roger thought the guy was an asshole.  The worst thing about Bob Holby was that he yukked it up with the cops.

He consorted with the enemy. He’d make them special enchiritos and verbally cup their balls every time they came in.  And once Bob Holby got there, they came in all the fucking time, because now they felt welcome.  Needless to say, we hated Bob Holby.  My friend Z used to blow snot-rockets into Bobbo’s burritos when he wasn’t looking and then we would watch this jag-bag take his dinner break with the cops when they came in, acting like one of them.

The worst job in the place was frying taco shells.  One guy would stand there all fucking day frying shells. It was hot and dirty and you’d get splashed by droplets of 550 degree grease when you dropped the basket in the fryer.  It sucked.  The taco shells got fried six at a time and if you loaded one wrong, they’d be uneven and Roger would make you do it over and over and over.  Needless to say it was the suck detail at Taco Bell.  We always made sure Bob Holby had to do it, arguing that he was the new guy so, tough shit.  The FNG (Fucking New Guy) always got the lousy jobs; that was the way this particular scrotum pole worked.

One day, asshole was frying and one of the taco shells got loose.  Bob Holby decides to be a hero and save the taco shell.  He sticks his hand into the deep fryer to attempt retrieval and winds up with one giant third-degree burn for a right hand.   At least we acted fast.  He passed out from the pain and we grabbed him and got his hand into a pitcher of iced-water, packing it with ice while he went into shock. Poor asshole.  Our manager, Bill, watched the ambulance pull away in disbelief.  He said, “The guy put his hand in a deep fryer to save a 3-cent taco shell.  What a TOOL.”  We laughed for a half an hour straight.

This piece is dedicated to that rare hero who could fuck up a one car funeral.

Published in: on July 7, 2011 at 3:54 pm  Comments (1)  
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