FireCat of the Tokyo Hotel, Chicago

FireCat of the Tokyo Hotel, ChicagoThe Tokyo Hotel on Ohio, in Chicago, is a shithole.  It’s the kind of place I once feared I’d be found dead in.  The customer reviews for this place are hysterically funny; descriptions of odd stains on the sheets and walls abound in these accounts.  Lots of kids from other countries wind up being suckered into staying there as it sells itself as a “hostel.”  They usually flee after a day or two.  The signs outside advertise fish tacos and aushi.   Um. . . no thanks.

It was originally the Devonshire Hotel years ago, but it’s been the Tokyo for as long as I can remember.  I always thought it was more of a wino SRO-type place like the Twain or the Abbott, but evidently it is one or two roaches short of that distinction, qhich is not to say it is a bad place; it’s not outside, and in Chicago weather, you do not  want your ass sleeping on the frozen ground.  So you share a blanket with some cooties–it beats freezing to death.

This is the time of year the city for which this hotel is named celebrates the cherry blossom.   The blooming of these remarkable trees happens in late April and early May for a period of 3 or 4 weeks.  It is the time of year when young men in Tokyo take their girlfriends to the park and lay a blanket under the trees and open a bottle of sake and listen to the myriad of concerts in Ueno Park in the middle of the city.  This is a very popular time of year to get engaged and this park is the place a great many couples do this.

The poor bastards.

A glance across the park is breathtaking; shimmering whites and pinks and reds, as far as you can see, music and joy and the coming of spring.  I’ve noted before that public parks in Japan are quiet places; sanctuaries for  reflection and solitude.  I wish I were there right now.   I miss the kites and cranes and giant ravens gobbling cicadas in mid-air; the quiet musicality of the place. . .the mammoth koi in the pond gliding silently, some of them so translucent they seem to glow in the dark water.   I miss Ueno Park.  It is one of those places where you feel good about the world’s chances and your own.

Published in: on April 28, 2010 at 12:24 am  Comments (1)  
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The Fire Cat

The Fire CatThis comes from a story I once tried to write as a young kid about a man who gives  a woman a fire-colored cat in order to win her heart.  She is charmed by the animal and it is consistently a wonderful pet–loyal, beautiful and full of what she suspects is a divine light.  She is not, however, so crazy about the poor schmuck who gave her the cat.   In the end, his ardor curdles to bitterness and as it does, the “light” on the cat dims daily until it is a deep and ulcerous gray.  Needless to say the story is a real feel-good; nothing but mirth at Tony’s house.  After the love-sick guy jumps in front of a train, the cat hardens to solid lead and is forever schlepped around by its heart-broken owner.  Everybody loses.  It is not a great sory and I never tried to revive it.  It was full of symbolism about selfishness and love and written by a novice a bit too in love with the “cleverness” of the story.  It was supposed to be about a gift and turned into a self-indulgent bore of a read.

At least I got this picture out of it.  Thirt years later, it was a better idea as a picture than as a story.

I and my friend and studio director, Stan Klein, became book publishers this week.  Along with our other partners, Dawn Hancock of Firebelly and  Tanya and Brian Galin, formerly of Chase Projects, we formed a publishing company called FireCat.  We’ll publish art books, poetry and novels.  We are not a big outfit.  We’ll probably put out three or four books a year at first.  Why now, at a time when publishing is a shrinking industry?  We did some research.   The only part of publishing not shrinking is art books, chef books and certain porn.  Now if we could figure out how to get those three things into a book, well, things would be skippy!

The logic of art books is simple.   People who cannot afford the art buy the books.  People who can afford the art buy the books.
They must be carefully and agressively marketed with the help of as much “free” media as possible.  We must also not publish anything we don’t understand.  Big publishing houses publish 300 or 400 titles a year.  they are top-heavy with salaries, printing costs, ad campaigns, et cetera.  I’m not surprised they’re in trouble.  We will be a bit more cautious.  We will publish what we know about, can talk about and understand.  We will be our own best advocates; hopefully being more fluid and cost effective, we can make a go of it.

Next week starts Art Chicago, the once-great Chicago art fair that has been Madison-Avenued into a corporate daisy-chain of consultants, curators, wanna-be’s, boot-lickers, ass-kissers, dolts, dullards, and dumbbells.  This is a great place to observe who, and what, you do not want to become. Have a 9-dollar wine-spritzer for me and tip the bartenders you cheap pricks.

Published in: on April 25, 2010 at 7:51 pm  Leave a Comment  

The Sky at Akron

The Sky at AkronIt seems the Blue Tip Ohio Girls are becoming a body of work.  I’m kind of hypnotized by them.  The more of them I make, the more Ohio stories I hear.  For better or worse, almost all of the people I know from Ohio left there for a better job, or job opportunity.  Akron, the Rubber City, is known for its production of tires and being tied like an umbilical chord to the auto industry like Lordstown and Youngstown, at one time both big GM towns.

A lot of Ohio folks have written me to admonish me about putting stink on the place, which I honestly don’t mean to do.  What I know about Ohio comes from Ohio natives themselves; the people who’ve been hardest on the place are those who grew up there.

This morning my friend, Alex Kotlowitz, was here.  Alex is the marvelous writer who gave us There Are No Children Here and Never a City So Real, an amazing collection of essays and meditations on what it means to be a Chicagoan.  We were talking about Cleveland and its pugnacious will to change itself.  He told me it was different than Detroit, which just kind of fell over with the death of the big American auto industry.  At least with Cleveland, there is some push-back.  Clevelanders don’t just let life happen to them.  They fight back and don’t get fucked around willy-nilly like we do here in Chicago when the city’s powers that be decide they want something . . . like charging you for every fucking parking spot in town and every bullshit permit under the sun, not to mention the insanely high property taxes pounded up your hole like a jackhammer year after year.

Akron, of course, is the home of Devo and Chrissie Hynde of the Pretenders.  It is an amazing Rock and Roll town; the place from which Cleveland rockers, like the seminal punk band Pere Ubu, held sway over a new generation of art-school rock kids.  Mark Mothersbaugh, the frontman of Devo, is also afirst-rate visual artist who makes collages, as well as really trippy drawings.  I am a fan.  I attribute his divine weirdness to Ohio.

I’ve been through Akron and, when I think of it, I think of stacks and stacks of tires, and the exact midpoint between Chicago and New York.

Published in: on April 19, 2010 at 7:35 pm  Comments (1)  
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Tiny Ohio

Tiny OhioIn the last couple of elections, Ohio has been designated as a “battleground” state.  It seems an obstinate place; a state that rather enjoys the bloody battle for our country’s political will.  It is one of those places that clings to its guns and its religion; its burning working-class furies.  It is a place of disappearing industries; rubber, glass, paper. . .things are being constructed of other re-purposed materials.  It seems perpetually an angry place, spawning political bomb-throwers and minor-league intellects like Michael Steele.  And for the life of me, I will never be able to figure out what the Republican party has to offer African-Americans, other than Horatio Alger-Style bromides about boot-straps, and “helping those who help themselves.” It’s beyond me.
In literature, Ohio seems a place of suffocating ordinariness, a place so much the middle of America as to be almost erased by this definition.  James Wright’s poems, Sherwood Anderson’s little town, even Chrissie Hynde’s songs underline pervasive, whistling miles of emptiness.

I’ve driven through it.  In fact, got a ticket for driving on a suspended licsense in 1986 in Fulton county from a humorless state trooper who was hiding behind one of those salt depots and was only too happy to extract most of my cash for a bond, in lieu of waiting in jail for a court date.  It seems one of those places that is about consequences.  In the ’60s, cities like Cleveland lost their middle class to white flight and industries leaving town, as did towns like Youngstown, yet oddly, Ohio is home to some of the best colleges in the country–Oberlin, Ohio State, Miami of Ohio–and people from Ohio are your basic salt of the earth Midwesterners.  It seems a kind of “Our Town” type of state.  It has four seasons like Illinois and Indiana; big cities and a cultural legacy of art and music and literature.

Yet there is an otherness and abiding sadness about this state;  a great deal of unemployment and disintegrating manufacturing culture.  It is the tiny America; a microcosm of all of our ills brought into high relief geographically by mere location.

Ohio is our middle–tensile and utilitarian–a November kind of place. . .

Published in: on April 13, 2010 at 11:03 pm  Comments (2)  

Blue Ohio

Blue OhioMy favorite poet is from Ohio.  James Wright wrote When Autumn Begins in Martin’s Ferry Ohio.   It is a sad, autumnal ode to the beginning of football season and in it, Ohio doesn’t seem a very cheery place.  He describes women as “starved for love, like pullets” and the desperation in the faces of men at glazing windows and ends with a description of horror lined with beauty at the sight of young men playing football.  It is one of those perfect American poems where this fine, underrated poet got the lightning into the bottle.  Wright was a sad kind of poet.  He won the Pulitzer Prize  in his lifetime (as did his son, Franz, making them the only father-son combo in history to win this prize for poetry) but was considered a poet’s poet.

His love poems are darkly beautiful; love and death and winter often part of the same triangle; and his poems about the Midwest, specifically Ohio, with its paper mills and glass factories and dead-end factory jobs, comes into high relief in Wright’s aching poems.  The marvelous collection  is called, Above the River. Pick it up if you love poetry.

I have lots of friends from Ohio.  My studio director, Stan Klein, is from Cleveland and is a walking testament to the solid midwesternism of the state of Ohio.  He is practical beyond belief; nothing flashy or showy.  He lets his pugnacious dog, Ella, sleep on his coat.  He buys the Jewel brand jelly beans rather than the fancy Starburst kind which are more expensive because they are not practical.  The jelly beans are merely a delivery system for sugar.  Nobody says you have to enjoy them, so he gets the utilitarian jelly beans.  My friend, the painter Jenny Scobel, is also a Clevelander and didn’t like the taste of eggs from the store, so she raised chickens to lay her fresh eggs; this is more practical.

People from Ohio are common-sense, no-bullshit types.  They are creatures of logic and the most direct route.

I found a box of Ohio Blue-Tip matches at the Dominick’s the other night.  I didn’t even know they still made these.  And then I realized–of course they do.  They are practical.  They are matches for people who need matches for other things besides smoking; lighting the pilot light, candles, lighting the coals, striking one when a fuse blows. . .shit like that.

I just fuck around with mine.  Of course I light cigarettes with them, but also fireworks; of which I have copious amounts.

Also, if you smoosh Ohio Blue tips into a pipe with Black Magnum powder. you can make yourself a damned fine pipe bomb or “Dago Bomb” as we called them when we were kids.  I have two great joys.   Making things. . . and blowing shit up.

In my last missive I discussed an Ohio girl I used to know who lit these matches greaser-style off of her zipper.  She also drank these little bottles of creamed ale called “Little Kings.”  They were small, but they possessed the authority of a blunt instrument.  When she was done with the bottles, on occasion, she would fill them with gasoline and a rag and a cork stopper and make a midget molotov cocktail.  She would then zoom by on her Suzuki and plant this fucker in some teachers mailbox and blow it to smithereens.

Man, that was a woman.

Published in: on April 9, 2010 at 12:13 am  Comments (1)  
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Ohio Blue Match Girl

Blue Ohio Match GirlWhen I was a kid, I did four months in Boy Scouts.  It cured me of camping.   The sleeping outside in a tent in the rain with another guy was not for me.  Neither was the uniform or running around like an asshole for merit badges.  The whole thing just seemed jive.  Who wants to shit outside?

The only matches you were allowed to have (for emergencies) were Ohio Blue-Tips, on account of you could strike them on anything; and you carried them in this cool little silver canister-thing, that I later used to stash other substances.

Years later, I would meet a girl from Ohio who would strike these matches off of her zipper.  She wore cowboy boots and tore around on a little Suzuki.  She also smoked Tiajuana Smalls and carried a flask of Wild Turkey.   She was way more comfortable around guys than other girls.   The girly-girls hated her because she was prettier than most of them and they started whisper campaigns about her promiscuity, which weren’t true.  In fact, she was damn near prudish in a lot of ways.

She hung out with the trouble-makers and creative types and she was a good friend when you needed a friend.  Whenever you needed a light, she’d strike one of these matches with a fingernail, like Lee Marvin, and light your cigarette.   She did this as one elegant gesture; one that had probably taken much practice.   She was cool.

I’ve always loved these matches.  They imply our covenant with fire.  They put fire at our disposal with one stroke.   I loved the way she lit matches–greaser-style.  It was also musical in a way worth remembering.

Naturally, these were also the matches of choice for hobos; easy to store and necessary for cooking and fires.  Some years ago I would, on occasion, run into bits of folk-art make from spent Ohio Blue-Tips; little cabin-like things or picture frames.  There was a man in Washington Square Park in New York who made wondrous little boxes from them.  I’d always meant to buy one but never quite got to it.  He is probably still there.  Next time I go to NY I will find him.  He was there 30 years ago and I always admired his craft.  It’s time to get one.  It’s time to let that guy know that I admire his boxes and the act of faith they convey.

Published in: on April 5, 2010 at 11:17 pm  Comments (2)  
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The Devil’s Songbird

The Devil's SongbirdThere is a part at the end of No Country for Old Men, where Tommy Lee Jones’ character, a sheriff, gives up and, over his morning coffee explains to his wife, that he is out-matched by the evil in the world.  It is a weary, resigned and grim assessment of the world around him.

In my Catholic upbringing, all evil was neatly ceded to the devil or the Communists who, of course, didn’t believe in god.  Years later, reading philosophy. I was told that evil is a small, banal thing.  I think one must become a grown-up to realize that it is volitional; it is a choice, and it is very human.  In nature, I believe there is no right or wrong, merely consequences.  With us, it is an action and we know it when we do it.

I kissed off the idea of a merciful god in about 4th grade.  I’d found a skunk that had been hit by a car and was suffering and dying.  I picked it up and brought it into the  Catholic  school I was attending (there were a few).  I rushed down the hall to find a nun or better, a priest, to bless the skunk before it died.  I believed all of the horse-shit the brides of Christ had said about “all god’s creatures. . . yadda, yadda. . .”  At the entrace of the church, I found Sr. Anisia and presented the skunk to her, explaining that he needed to be blessed before he died  so god would know he was a solid skunk and let him into heaven.  I was sincere.  I wanted this skunk to latch onto a little mercy on his way off this mortal coil.

The nun lost her fucking mind, screaming at me to remove that filthy creature at once.  I told her that I would after she blessed his ass and said “Really Sister, how hard is it just to bless him?”

She had the custodian carry me and the skunk outside and I decided right then they were liars; the whole merciful god fairytale was one big hand-job.  They tossed my ass out of school and the nun called my mother and had another melt-down.  I told my mother I thought Sister Anisia was a lying sack of shit and that the skunk deserved a little kindness and Christian treatment.  My mom didn’t say anything, but I’d noticed I didn’t get punished at home for this.  My mom and dad had to go up and meet with the twat nun to get me back into school, and this crazy old bitch would light me up every chance she got.  I didn’t take it laying down though.  Many a bag of dogshit found its way into her Chevy Impala; usually under the driver’s side seat.  Her side.

I started to make drawings of naked devil girls and leaving them out on my desk and also pictures of nuns being attacked by eagles only to be carried to a great height before being dropped like a bad sack of guts.
Needless to say, this would make the nuns spot their shorts and they sent me to the school shrink, who would leave his pack of Newports on his desk, only to have them stolen by me.  He was also a religious dip-shit of some kind.  A brother or friar or some shit.

I came to the decision that if this group of fuck-heads were God’s  ‘A’-team,  then he was truly screwed.

This piece is called, “The Devil’s Songbird.”

Published in: on April 1, 2010 at 1:26 am  Comments (2)  
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