The Red Cat

The Red Cat
When I first got there, 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.

How thrilled I was at the success of HBO’s Treme this year.  The pride I felt at watching my friends John Boutte and Paul Sanchez perform on that show, along with Tom McDermott and David Torkanowsky, and all of the other great musicians in that town.  How lovely it was to see the great Wendell Pierce get a role worthy of his talent, and Melissa Leo, as well.  I felt like the show evinced the “no surrender” spirit of that place, as well as the lurking despair that would manifest itself when one least expected.

I think there was balance; the ferocious pride of the Mardi Gras Indians, as well as the continuing frustration at trying to effectively police the Crescent City in the face of a crumbling tourist economy and low pay.  I feel like this show was rendered with compassion and a contrary kind of spirit that sassed back to strip mall America: “We are not like you, we are only like ourselves.”  There must be a place like this in America where Americans sleep till noon in order to serve the muse.  She is a demanding sort, and some of us have no choice.

Published in: on July 29, 2010 at 3:08 pm  Leave a Comment  

The Witness

The WitnessYouth is tyranny.  Youth is cruel.  I certainly was.  As a kid, we would often hang unflattering nicknames on each other, often in relation to some physical abnormality, haircut or speech impediment.  A kid with a preponderance of saliva in his diction became “Slurp,” another with Bozo-red hair endured taunts of, “Red on the Noodle, like a dick on a Poodle,” and another child who used crutches became, “Gimp,”  These nicknames as cruel as they were, stuck.

In 7th and 8th grade this kid moved to our neighborhood who had a glass eye and not one of the top of the line ones.  Naturally, he became, “Eyeball.”   He was a big, gangly doofus and he became the butt of many cruel jokes.

At a certain point, he became complicit in his own humiliation.  He would shoot marbles with his glass eye.  One time actually losing it to another kid, only to be further embarrassed by having his mother go to the kids house to retrieve the orb.  At other times, he’d pop it out and drop it into girl’s drinks to freak them out and elicit laughs from the friends he wished so desperately to cultivate.
One time, at a school carnival,I got on the Salt and Pepper Shaker ride with Eyeball.  I shouldn’t have.  I’d watched Eyeball eat every piece of shit they served at a Catholic school Carnival; cotton candy, funnel Ccakes, big pretzels loaded with salt, and an Italian beef sandwich.  Sure enough, after two vicious high-speed spins on this ride, Eyeball heaved his whole grease-load all over me.  It was the most foul, toxic shit you could imagine and promptly after getting off the ride, I pounded the shit out of Eyeball.

I’ve never felt right about it.  To this day I’d like to apologize to that guy for beating his ass for getting sick, for calling him “Eyeball” and for joining in the thoughtlessly cruel laughter of other boys when he’d embarrass and debase himself for our amusement.   I never knew this kid’s real name; I only ever called him, “Eyeball.”  The sadness and cruelty of this statement speaks for itself.

One of the things I’d always loved about Marvel Comics was the nature of one’s “super-powers” were often rooted in the pain of childhood.  I hope wherever “Eyeball” is, that time and life have treated him with more kindness than I did.  This one is for him.

This piece is called, The Witness.

Published in: on July 23, 2010 at 2:48 pm  Leave a Comment  

The Devil and Western Avenue

The Devil and Western AvenueThere is an underground industry in Chicago known as the “Midnight Auto.”  Those working and trafficking in this part of the auto industry, deal with hot cars and auto parts.  In other words, “chop-shops.”  Modern automobiles are worth far more when harvested for parts than as a working  car.  Thieves specialize; there are guys who only steal air-bags, others only batteries or distributor caps or tires.  There are even kids who only grab hood ornaments.  It is a varied set of options for the judicious thief–the American automobile.

The auto industry has  devised  “anti -theft” devices for years and thieves have evolved and changed with them. One used to be able to grab large American cars with a slim-jim, a small screw-driver, vice-grips and a tap-hammer.  Easy-peasy.

Now, even with all of the computerized shit, a jimmy still gets you into the driver’s side door and there are much more sophisticated ignition devices, but one must be something of a hacker.  Deterrents like “Lo-jack?”    Kid stuff.  Break the aerial–no more Lo-jack. “The Club,” you can cut it in half with a small torch, plus have the added bonus of pummeling the shit out of the rightful owner of the car with it, if they catch you.

The long and short of it is, if somebody wants your car, they can take it.

Car alarms only make people hate you.  When they go off, do you really think your fellow man gives a fuck that your car is being stolen?  Fuck no!  In fact, after five minutes of your car  alarm, they’re pulling for the guy who is jacking your car.

When I was a young man, all of the people I knew in this business sold their hot parts on Maxwell Street.  It was quick and anonymous and money and goods changed hands without so much as a receipt or too much eye-contact.  Now that Maxwell Street is gone, a lot of the trade has moved over to the hundreds of used-car lots on Western Avenue.

I love Western.  It used to be a veritable forest of neon car lot signs with the lines of multi-colored triangular flags covering the whole lot.  As a kid I thought they were palaces.  Western Avenue once boasted the longest streetcar  line in the world; the Green Hornet street-cars went the way of all things in the ’50s.

Western is  still the place to buy a used car in Chicago.  It’s a huge business here and competition is cutthroat.  So is the car parts trade.  Chicago is a paradise for parts thieves.  Car lots, particularly the relatively unpoliced, huge, shopping mall lots, are like a fucking smorgasbord, especially if you have a Toyota or Honda or even better, a Prius, with all of those lovely universal parts.  The Midnight Auto thanks you!

This piece is called, The Devil and Western Avenue. One of my Superheroes who just happens to do nasty stuff..

Published in: on July 17, 2010 at 10:14 am  Leave a Comment  

Bucktown All-Star (Goat Man)

The Bucktown All-Stare (Goat Man)My neighborhood, Bucktown, is named for goats;  male goats, specifically.  Four or five decades ago, this neighborhood was almost exclusively Ukrainian, Polish, Czech, and other eastern Europeans like Latvians and Slovaks.  Almost everyone had goats for milk and cheese; a hold -over from the old country.  Goat cheese is delicious and the Europeans sold it to Italian and Greek restaurants in the city. Like many new immigrant groups, at times, they felt, intuitively, the disapproving gaze of other tribes that surrounded them and endured the ethnic baiting and slurs that come with being the  newest immigrants.  The phrase “DP” was a hurtful reminder of the xenophobia that was not uncommon, often spewed by other immigrants.

Bucktown was a tight community and there were goats everywhere and they loved running the streets.  Goats are the randiest of creatures and not particularly picky about what they mount.  One older gentleman told me of having to chase off a goat who, in his words. “tried to put the dick to my beagle.”

It was not uncommon to see goats banging like jackhammers in the middle of Damen Avenue.  It is no accident that they are the symbol of the sexually insatiable satyr.  In Bucktown, it was one big goat fuck-fest.  They would bang dogs, cats, and even the odd large opossum.

Still,they produced the milk and the cheese and were in this neighborhood for years and endured the goat orgy as part of the life-cycle; a necessary part, actually.

Bucktown has changed a lot over the 16 years I’ve been here.  It used to be a perfectly good bad neighborhood, full of shysters, thieves, hookers and junkies. . .the good old days.

Now there is a Marc Jacobs store on Damen.  The bodega down the street from me with all of the fighting cocks in the backyard is an interior design studio.  The churro guy is gone and you can get croissants now.

I like my new neighbors; I just missed my old ones.  They were the ones with the stories, and the lives lived curb to curb, and by their wits.   I miss the bakery across the street that made the best rye bread I’ve  ever eaten and also sold salty creamy butter with it.  It was butter that didn’t come in a square or a brick.  It was amazing.

There is a lovely flower shop there now, Larkspur, and its owner, Beth, is my dear friend and I become instantly cheered up whenever I walk through the door and smell all of the  flowers-.  They are the smell of life and repositories of light.

I still love Bucktown.  Once in a while, I’ll walk down the street and hear snatches of Polish and Spanish and realize that the real estate creatures have not been able to wipe out the immigrant flavor of this place completely.  And this thought gives me great comfort.

Published in: on July 9, 2010 at 1:36 pm  Leave a Comment  
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The Orange Spider

The Orange Spider for Louise Bourgeois

I once met Louise Bourgeois.  She was a marvelous, elfin, dirty old French lady who made some of the most compelling sculpture and drawings of the last 50 years.  She  was a bit like licorice; you loved her or hated her.  I loved her ferocious sculptures of spiders.  Gigantic and full of feminine menace, they were present, for me, in a way that was unnerving.  I remember the first time I saw one at the Tate Modern in London.  I was standing on the balustrade above  the piece.  From above, it looked predatory, and when people walked underneath the giant arachnid,  it looked as if she might just eat them.  I say, “she” because they always seemed female to me, for no particular reason.  They just did.  I think this was part of Louise Bourgeois’ power as an artist; the ability to feminize a powerful figure without saying so.  When I met her she was already in her 80s and she told me that, “Boys become artists to fuck all the girls.”  I replied that we certainly give it a good faith effort.  She laughed a greasy conspiratorial laugh and I liked her immediately.  She wasn’t like anyone’s grandma.

Louise Bourgeois died a couple of weeks ago. She was 98 years old; witness to a century.  She didn’t become well-known until she was in her 70s.  As progressive a place as the art world pretends it is, it was still, for much her life anyway, a boys’ network.  I don’t think it is any accident that so much of Ms. Bourgeois’ work was rooted in gender.  In the end, she won.   She climbed the art world’s mountain of nails and she got to the top. . .all 90 pounds of her.

Spiders have always scared the hell out of me.  Only lately have I stopped killing them.  They are incredibly useful; eating nits and mosquitoes and flies and lots of them, still…they give me the willies.

My favorite childhood story is about a spider: Charlotte’s Web.  It is a beautiful meditation on the life-cycle, without all of the religious horseshit.  At the end, when the hundreds of Charlotte’s babies are blown into the world, suspended by their silken-thread parachutes, I’d cry like a baby.   My daughter, Gaby loved this story and for years would make me read it to her at bedtime.

Charlotte and Louise are a bit alike.  Each lived long enough to spawn a new generation.  Charlotte with her babies, Louise the many young women (and men) who will look at her work, in its perverse playful and sinister humor and take these ideas forward into their work and into the world.  This one is for that magnificent, dirty old French broad.  Bless her.

It’s called  ‘The Orange Spider’

Published in: on July 2, 2010 at 8:06 pm  Comments (3)  
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