Razor Park

Razor Park

When I was a teenager I worked briefly at a car wash. It was hard work–when it was busy, it was ass-breaking work. I worked with a lot of black guys who were old pros at this.  These guys were quick and perfect and earned the lion’s share of the tips, wiping a car down in about 90 seconds after it went though the rollers and the drapes.

A couple of them were musicians.  One of them wound up in Lil’Ed’s Blues Imperials. The other guys were career hustlers who had more than one job and these guys loved automobiles.

Very often, when an Electra 225 came through, or in their parlance, “a deuce and a quarter, “they’d swoon.

A deuce and a quarter WAS the shit. Or a Coupe De Ville.  One guy (C.T.  as he went by) told me, “Tony, there is three french words every man of color knows, young brother. . .’Coupe de Ville.’”  And he would crack up laughing.   C.T. was an older guy with a phenomenal singing voice and a ferocious alcohol problem.  Of course, at the time, so did I.

Often he would sing a cappela over the sounds of the rollers in an angelic falsetto. Sam Cooke, Jackie Wilson. . .his rendering of “Lonely Teardrops” could make you cry.  He’d also sing Teddy Pendergrass and Marvin Gaye songs.  One time he sang a Crystal Gayle song that, in his voice, was so lovely, you forgot it was middle of the road country music.

“Don’t it make my brown eyes blue. . .”

We all tried to figure out what the hell he liked about that song and he would tell us he liked the way the song was “built.”

I still don’t know what that really means. I’ve always thought that because he sang it about an octave higher in pitch, that it was a tune that rewarded someone with a pitch-perfect upper register like he had.  Most of the time C.T. was a joy to be around.

On occasion, he’d get lit at lunch. One too many shots of 151 and the clouds would come in.

C.T. was from New Orleans.  He’d fled there years ago behind some trouble that he never really elaborated on.  He just knew he could not return. From time to time, he’d let everyone know that as a young man he’d stacked some time at Angola prison and that while he was there, he’d gone to barber school; wherein he’d whip out his straight-razor and turn its ugly, lean blade so that the light could show you the perfect white line of sharpness on its edge.

He would get this low voice on and say, “Hang around my house , Jim.  You’re gonna get a shave–closest one you ever had.”

Even the young guys avoided C.T. when he was in his cups. They told me it was not uncommon for black men of C.T.’s generation to carry a razor.  This way, if the cops picked him up he could say he was a barber.  They told me they, themselves, carried box-cutters and other work-tool like razors. Naively, I asked, “What for?” and Ray, a younger guy, said, “For people who look like you, little man.  Not all of you is so friendly.”

With that, the guys laughed and I realized something. In Lombard and Villa Park (pretty much lily-white suburbs), these guys were afraid of us.  I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised, but I was. Every once in a while, one of the guys would get a DWB– a “Driving While Black” ticket– never for speeding.  All of these guys lived on the South Side and knew well the tender mercies of suburban cops.  The tickets were always for chicken-shit stuff like an expired tag or  a busted tail light. Stuff white motorists would have skated by with a warning at best.

It opened my eyes a lot and it explained the deep rage of C.T. after he’d had a few belts.

Still, he was mostly good company; a funny guy with lots of stories about New Orleans. . .stories about  being in a band that played out at the racetrack back in the early ’60s–a very prestigious gig.

He told me he once opened for Earl King and had the temerity to end his set with “Trick Bag,”Mr. King’s signature hit.

“It was a fool thing, but Earl glared at me and I smiled and winked at him and he just busted up laughin, shakin’ his head.  He told me, “Son, it amazes me that you still on this side of the dirt.”

C.T. was the one who made me curious about New Orleans. I, even then, thought it was a magical place. . .like the inside of a snow-globe.  And even though I’d never been there, I could see it in my head, hear it in my dad’s Louie Armstrong, Pete Fountain and Al Hirt records.

On Fridays, the musician guys would change into their stage clothes before driving back to the city.

This was always the best day to avoid C.T. He’d take swigs of his Hennessy that looked like bites, and glower at them in their wide bells and platform shoes and silky Nik-Nik shirts. He’d mutter that they looked like sissies and then it would get quiet.  Ray would walk over and ask him,”You got something to say old man?” and C.T. stared right back with the thousand-yard stare and his voice would go up in pitch.

“You lookin’ for a shave, Son?”

I wanted to be anywhere else in the world right then.  It felt like all of the air had been sucked out of the room.

Ray’s eyelid would tremble and he’d say, “Knock it off, C.T.  You scarin’ the white boy,” and then they would fall out laughing.

Assholes.

More than once they got me with this act.  But at times, after drinking lunch, C.T. was genuinely scary.  One time, an asshole tossed the keys to his Benz to one of the guys and called him, “Smokey,” as in, “I want it waxed too, Smokey.”

C.T. carved up the guys back seat with cuts so fine, the guy didn’t notice it til the next day.  The next day he came in and the dealership next door had to find him new leather upholstery.  He came over to us and said, “I left my car outside Gianotti’s and some asshole slashed my backseat.  Can you believe that shit?”

C.T. said, “It could have worse.”

The guy got pissed.

“What the fuck are you talking about?  This is going to cost 500 bucks.  Fuck.”

C.T. snapped right back, “They could have set it on fire.  Burned the whole car. ‘Lease now you don’t have to deal with all that . . .smoke.”

For a moment they locked eyes and they both nodded, just long enough for them to know.

Published in: on May 24, 2012 at 5:26 pm  Comments (2)  

Uptown Cat Girl

Image

When I first got to New Orleans in 1988, it seemed everyone around me was a lot freer than I was, as odd as that sounds.  It was a crazily sexy place with grownup women who were frank and forward about what made them happy.  It was hot, so there was always a lot of sweaty skin and poetry and music.  It was like entering one of those snow-globes without the snow.  It was Spain and France preserved in architectural amber.  It was history.  My friend, Charlie Neville, showed me Pirate Alley where William Faulkner wrote his first novel.  He also showed me Congo Square which, along with Storyville, was the birthplace of Jazz.

New Orleans felt like liberty to me.  Nobody put on airs; people there had this music in their head, and they had to dance to it.

My female friends have been on me to create more women superheroes . . . good idea.  I love drawing women; the curve of the neck or hip or breast; such a joy.  As a kid, I would do anything to see images of naked women . . . I still will.  I’ve written many times that I could be very happy drawing birds and naked women the rest of my life and that is no shit.  At some point I will do it.  It will be my version of retirement.

I loved drawing this piece because it is kind of a shape-shifter figure–half cat, half Mardi Gras Indian Woman.  I love watching the Mardi Gras Indians and their “suits of pretty” on St. Joseph’s Day in New Orleans.  I love a town that, for any reason, is in costume for much of the year.  The atmosphere of Carnival, and the joy at being free and alive, has much appeal for me.  I love the profane pagan ritual of all of it, the swagger and soaring humanness of a people and a city alive with music and color and joy.

I consider New Orleans a prayer, a plea, and a reliquary of otherness; the most necessary city in our country.

Published in: on May 21, 2012 at 7:15 pm  Comments (3)  

The King

King Etching

Yesterday, thousands and thousands of nurses marched on Daley Center during the first day of the NATO conferences. They walked from the Sheraton on Upper Wacker to Dearborn and Randolph. It was all very peaceful.

Their throwing in with the Occupy movement was pretty seamless and made for a powerful conversation. The police were very present as were other security types dressed as Streets and San guys with ear-pieces.  They weren’t fooling anyone –nor do I think they meant to.

The nurses are not marching for more money for themselves.  They are asking Wall Street to pay an equitable share toward the ailing health-care system.  In short, they’re doing it for us. What they ask is that about a penny per trade be set aside for healthcare. What they are asking for is nominal…very small.  Over the course of a year, these guys will spend more money on Tic-Tacs.

The impressive thing about this march was the sheer numbers involved. I talked to nurses from Detroit, Massachusetts, Los Angeles Georgia and Mississippi and many, many others. They all came here, on their own dime, to ask us to better help ourselves.  Their first target was the G8 summit, but what the hell, NATO promised every world leader you could imagine. What better audience?

What surprised me was the myriad of other causes that showed up to make their presence felt–everyone from letter carriers to firefighters, all talking to people about their disappearing pensions and the pressure being brought to bear upon their union leadership. A great many working people feel like their jobs are descending into the status of “serfdom,” particularly here in Chicago. The few cops who would talk to me off the record, see the embattled unions around them–and they’re not stupid–they know eventually the little man with the shiny shoes is coming for them.

My guess, the teacher’s union breaks.  Between the sucker bet of vouchers and being a very EASY union to denigrate…They’re toast.

It will come, of course, after a long destructive strike which will benefit nobody except Emanuel.  He will have succeeded in bamboozling the public into thinking the problems with education, and the city’s ills in general, are those “greedy” teachers. Then it will be the “greedy” firemen, the “greedy”  cops. Get the picture?

One of the cornerstones of democracy is for people to be able to bargain collectively to better their lot in the workplace.  The conversation in Daley Plaza yesterday is one well worth having. We must ask ourselves, “Who do we want to be in the world?”

What is equitable compensation for what we do? And how do we protect it?”

Why now, is “pension reform” on the table for working people, though not for politicians?”

King Richard made sure a sweetheart deal was cut 20 years ago that guarantees our alderman an embarrassing amount of money–in perpetuity–for spending their career fucking up the city of Chicago.

Let’s see if I have this right: teachers have no right to job security or a living wage, but retiring aldermen do?

FUCK YOU.

As I walked around yesterday, I saw the people I’ve known my whole life…people who wake up in the morning grab a cup of coffee and go to work. People like both of my parents. I also have two sisters I am endlessly proud of who are nurses. In my own life I’ve been close enough to death a couple of times that only the vigilance of medical professionals saved my ass.

I watched hospice nurses, men and women, ease my father’s suffering and provide the humane and kind palliative everyone should have at the finish line.

Whatever they pay nurses…? It isn’t enough.

I also saw some of the Occupy kids with the bandanas over their faces, goading cops who were too smart to take the bait.  It was a useless bit of agitprop theater that hurts the otherwise necessary Occupy Movement.  Really. Take the scarves off your faces–you look like assholes and you’re hurting a viable movement.

When I think about all of the stuff we waste money on in this  country and this city; all of the horseshit P.R. and empty boosterism–and we don’t want to pay educators or help medical professionals, (in many cases first responders) do their jobs?

The conversation around Daley Plaza was one that would have interested Old Man Daley.  He was elected six times by unions.  I imagine he’d have had something to say about the current administration throwing labor under the bus. It certainly got me thinking about who really matters in a city.

Teachers and Nurses?  Absolutely. Try having a civilization without healers and educators.

And the next time Mr. Mayor starts running his head, telling you how expensive Education is?

Tell him if he thinks education is costly, try ignorance.

Published in: on May 19, 2012 at 7:17 pm  Comments (3)  

Rag On My Head

“You’re nobody ’til somebody kills you.”–Biggie Smalls

One of the grace notes of having kids is that they will inevitably listen to different music than you do. As a kid, I hated the stuff my father listened to; mostly big band music circa WWII like Glenn Miller or the jump and swing music of that era–stuff I later came to find interesting. Where my father and I found common ground was in Louie Armstrong and the music of New Orleans. It is a little like that with my kids.

My son, Max, used to get 50 bones a week to load my iPod. I’d write down all of the music I wanted and then he’d add all of the things he was listening to. He likes Kanye and Jay Z, lots of rap and jazz and soul mashups of every sort and he has a way of putting lists of like-spirited sounds together.  In short, he earned his dough. I liked what he listened to, with a few exceptions, and he liked some of the stuff I listened to. It is one of the things he and I can easily talk about and enjoy together. In fact, both of my kids (my daughter also has great taste in music) are forever hitting me up for scratch to see shows.We live in the middle of the greatest music scene in America.  For my son, the Metro all-ages shows were nirvana. Max loved ska as a 7th and 8th grader and these shows I never had to worry about.  They were very well-policed. The security at Metro was present, gentle and very aware. Metro’s owner, Joe Shanahan, has been doing this for a long time and his people and his policies are first rate. I never worried about my kids going to a show at Metro.

Some of the other venues scare me to death, as well as the culture surrounding some of the music. I know most of it is just selling wolf-tickets: who is the baddest, who has the most bitches, who drinks the most Hennessy…la, la,la,la  and la.

My own preferred music when I was 18 was loaded with this ridiculous posturing as well, at one time. Despite all of the drug-slinging and misogyny in Biggie Smalls music, I came to like it because there was also a limber and reflexive lyricist at work there and a vulnerability that shone through the bravado and braggadocio. There was also a a bristling, propulsive intelligence in his rhymes and arrangements, as well as an old soul’s deep blues lurking about as well.

For about the past year, my son and his pal Ashkon, who works for me, had been playing this mix tape of a young rapper named Rodney Kyles,Jr. A song on this mix tape had been rattling around in my head for months, Rag On My Head.

It is at once hypnotic, droning and mesmerizing; an incantation to a better world, yet at the same time, a world-weary affirmation that young Mr. Kyles knows exactly how the world sees him. In Obama’s “post-racial” America, Rodney Kyles knew that to be young and male and black in America…to be at the opposite end of economic advantage…is to be in exile. His raps were less angry and more cynically resigned to this idea– unlike a lot of rap.

Rodney Kyles Jr. was not the least bit naive about what this supposed “post racial” culture had left him and his crew. If this seems like a cynical or hopeless statement– look at the stats for young black males  in America, particularly the ones that tell us more young black men go to prison than they do college.

These are ugly, sobering truths and “In Rod We Lust‘, Kyles’ first and last, musical will and testament, his rhymes are shot through with these icy truths. There is something edifying about one who sees the world for what it is.  A young man able to shut out the giddy noise and the feel-good bromides about “post racial” America and realize there is still much inequality and inequity, and that he is an inhabitant of a world and city still encoded by class and skin color.

I wish I could ask Rodney Kyles Jr. about this. I can’t. In September of last year, he was stabbed to death in Lincoln Park.  He and another man bumped each other on a sidewalk on the 1100 west block of Wrightwood after a party. Words were exchanged and the other man; described as white, blonde hair, six-feet three inches, pulled a knife and stabbed Rodney Kyles twice. This happened in front of several witnesses. Nobody has ever been arrested for this.

It is easy to become cynical about crime in Chicago. Emanuel, for all of his puffery, has done nothing to curb violent crime, nor has his new police chief, Gerry McCarthy.  These guys love their “stats.” Almost every homicide of a young, black male gets thrown into the “gang violence” bin. Well, here is a newsflash–Rodney Kyles Jr. was NOT part of a gang.  As synonymous as “rapper” may be with “gang-banger” to the police, Rodney Kyles was a college student; a kid who hung out with skateboarders and artists, rather than bangers.
Eye-witnesses to Kyles’ killing told other kids–including mine–that the police were in no great hurry to summon an ambulance that evening. One wonders if this would have been their attitude had Kyles been a white youth bleeding to death in Lincoln Park.

I know of him because he was a friend of my children. They tell me he was a charismatic, if troubled, guy who was the leader of an assemblage of aspiring rappers and skate artists and filmmakers, that went by the moniker of “Scoom Squad.” At the time, Kyles was a student at Roosevelt University studying philosophy and history.  In the mix tape he left on the internet, it’s obvious Rodney and the “Scoom Squad” had a taste for rebellion and they also had some deep questions about America, the world, and their place in it. Like with Biggie, there is a gritty intelligence and wit at work in Rodney Kyles’ songs. As far as I know, he’d never performed any of these songs.  He was at the beginning and from what he left behind, I feel like he’d have gotten somewhere. I leave it to you — here is the link:

http://inrodwelust.tumblr.com/

These are a collection of unpolished gems, that are as filmic as a Melvin Van Peebles film or an Iceberg Slim novel. Kyles’ ability to build atmospheric layers, with nothing but voices, is uncanny and dramatic; and at times, as howlingly funny as they are pitch dark.  There was a musically and socially, percussive mind at work here and when one hears this collection of jams, one cannot help but mourn the songs this young man will never write.

Etrick.wordpress.com/
Published in: on May 15, 2012 at 7:39 pm  Comments (1)  

Promiscuous Stories

Promiscuous Stories

Published in: on May 8, 2012 at 5:23 pm  Leave a Comment  

Baby, I’m a Bad Man

Baby, I'm a Bad Man

It is amazing how easy it is to be the kind of guy women don’t like.  Get caught laughing at an off-color joke–or worse yet; making one…be observed staring a little too long at a pleasant ass or pair of breasts, and you’re a pig, a cur, a Cro Magnon misogynist and you just don’t get it!

I suppose women wear low-cut blouses and tight jeans so you will spend more time looking at their shoes. A gal plops down the 5K for the after-market ta-tas so you can look her in the eye and discuss Nietzsche.  She spends all of that time in the gym, firming up her ass, so you can have a meaningful discourse about clean energy and gender identity issues.

Who are you kidding? You want us to look. . .and you want us to long.

Even nuns can’t walk by a mirror without checking to see if the new habit makes their ass look big.

I had a woman comment that a lot of the depictions of women in my work were shapely, comely types and what was my problem with real women? Actually, nothing. I just like drawing shapely, comely naked women, and what is it to you if I do? It’s not like I do this at your expense. I do it because I feel like it.  And if you don’t like it. . .go take a flying fuck at a rolling donut!  It’s none of your business Gert!

You don’t like it, don’t look at it.

Deal.

There are plenty of artists who draw and paint every kind of body type so that everyone is represented. The late Phillip Pearlstein comes to mind as does the late, great Lucien Freud. They painted all manner of women’s (and men’s) bodies.

In the canon, every physical type is represented. Some people just don’t like that we enjoy the Christina Hendricks model more than the Andrea Dworkin one.

Well, boo-hoo, big fucking deal, and mind your own business. I don’t tell you not to drool into your rack every Sunday night over Mad Men’s John Hamm, do I? Or try to stop your eyes from glazing over when the David Beckham commercial comes on?Right?

I just don’t like the same things you like.

I watch Game of Thrones every Sunday night.  If we are all a dork about something, well, this is my preferred Dorkdom. There is a lot of nudity, savage fucking, stabbings, beheadings, decapitations and gore. Is this why I watch the show? Fuck yes, it is. Mostly for the myriad of pleasant breasts and wide, fine booty.

They didn’t hire a bunch of size 4′s for this show. They went somewhat voluptuous and bless those perverts for doing so. There is every kind of sexual abomination in Game of Thrones; brother/sister (not the Alabama, barn-yard version, complete with the wide foreheads and disappearing chins) but two very attractive actors who, in real life, could not possibly be related, hammering away doggie-style.

There is the one disturbo queen, who is still breast-feeding her 13-year old son.  A good case for some of these folks to get out more. . .maybe expand the gene pool a bit.

Game of Thrones is earthy sex, full-on frontal nudity and bush-shots. It appears, guys, that the bush is back after nearly two decades of waxing and otherwise shaving the cookie, Game of Thrones is making an argument for the bush, in many different hues and colors.

There is also little person sex wherein the Marlon Brando of the smaller people, Peter Dinklage, gets more pussy than Sinatra and as well he should; he is an infinitely finer actor than Frank.  In fact, Dinklage carries the whole show; the moral center who also fucks trollops like a wild animal.  I love this guy.  He may have to stand on a box to kick a duck in the ass, but he is no slouch in the getting trim department. In fact many women I’ve talked to have quite brazenly told me, “I’d fuck him. I’d let him ride me like a baloney pony.”

All right then.

And then you have your prudes who have to hate this stuff merely because you like it.  Your Santorum-type,joyless D-bags. . .the hall monitors. There is a very easy way of not being offended in this world. If you don’t like it? Don’t watch it. Every television I’ve ever seen comes with an off-switch and many channels. Watch Lawrence Welk reruns.  They’re on Channel 17 on Comcast and once in a while they’re fun. (I saw a cut-rate Conway Twitty-type singing “One Toke Over the Line, Sweet Jesus” with a wannabe Donna Fargo on it one night from about circa 1969.  They thought it was a religious song. YouTube this fucker. Damn, it’s funny.)

Even Mad Men has had some raw sexual situations on it. Last night.John Slattery got whistled by the cougar-y French mother-in -law of Jon Hamm’s character at a private awards dinner. Like I said,she was French.

Every time I think America is getting less puritanical, (and hypocritical) the mouth-breathers come forth stamping their feet and running their head about what you and I should be able to watch. When feminists join in the fray, they align themselves with the crowd who would tell them they’ve no right to dominion over their own bodies. That they are baby-makers and this is their value.  These are the voices that scare me.

More importantly, it might mean there is less nudity out there. And who the hell wants that?  Know this: when you see lots of naked people on TV,banging like screen-doors, it’s a good sign that you are still free.

Published in: on May 3, 2012 at 7:51 pm  Comments (3)  
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