AsshopperIf there is a cooler looking bug than a grasshopper, I don’t know of it. They’re prehistoric and futuristic at the same time.  Some of them even look metallic.  Many a science fiction monster owes its features to the grasshopper.  As a kid, I caught them by the jarful; and they were not easy to catch.  You’d have to chase the fuckers all over the field.  the big ones could jump ten feet and the ones with wings, even further.  And they didn’t like being caught–they fought like hell to escape.

When I was a kid, me and a few other dopes would traipse out to the  field to capture them.  My one friend’s father used to use them as bait for fishing and he’d toss us a buck or two if we brought him back a few jars full.  Most the time I just let mine go.  the thought of Scotty’s father sticking a hook through them seemed more than a little cruel.

Paul Lehman, Scotty’s dad, was a thick, strong-looking guy with a tattoo of an eagle on his arm.  Like my father, he was a WWII vet and used to cut the grass with his shirt off.  He was a hairy motherfucker.  My father used to shout across the street to him, “Hey, Apsey-Baby! Put your goddamn shirt on, for Christ’s sake!”  Scott’s dad always complied for some reason.

We’d catch grasshoppers all day.  They were endlessly fascinating to us.  They came in every color and size and whoever had the most in one peanut butter jar, was considered top dog that day.

There was this other kid who hunted grasshoppers in the same field we did. He was an ill-tempered little bastard named Mark Offer, and he was mean. His mom was a waitress at the King Edward’s Restaurant and his older sister, Nicki, had a reputation for beating the hell out of boys.  They were, to say the least, a formidable bunch.  What bothered me about Mark was his cruelty.  He would kill grasshoppers with a fork he filched from the kitchen of the restaurant, or he would catch a whole jar of grasshoppers and pour water in the jar through the holes in the top and stick them in the freezer–just to be mean.  Most the time, we avoided him.  When we ignored him, he’d go get his sister, Nicki, who would tell us, “You guys play with my brother or I’ll stomp a mud hole in your asses. All of you.”

And she could.  One time she pushed Billy Printy’s head down a commode for grabbing her tit.  While he was choking on toilet water, she was punching his nut-sack.  We did not fuck around with Nicki Offer.  At a sock-hop in eighth grade, she told a guy that he would dance with her or she would punch him in the nuts.  He danced.  As long as Mark Offer had Nicki around he could be as big of an asshole as he wanted to.

One time, I was out catching grasshoppers and Nicki was in the field with her dog.  She walked up to me and I was terrified, but there was something else, too.  Nicki Offer was beginning to be really pretty.  It seemed like one day she looked like all of the other guys and then…Poof! she started looking like a girl and she was actually kind of beautiful.  It was too bad she scared the shit out of me.

She walked up to me in the field and asked me what I was doing. I was kind of afraid to answer her.  Finally I said I was catching grasshoppers and crayfish.  She asked me if I ever made the grasshoppers and crayfish fight.  I told her no. . .I hadn’t thought of that.  She held her hand out and asked me to see the jar of grasshoppers.  Wanting to avoid an ass-kicking, I handed them over, monkey-fast.  She was looking at them very carefully and she asked me if I knew what they were doing?

I didn’t know what she meant.  There were like 30 ‘hoppers in there and some of them were riding the other’s piggy-back.  She told me they were all fucking.

The world slowed to a snail’s pace and I heard myself say, “What?”

She narrowed her eyes and said, “They’re fucking.  They’re not riding each other piggy-back, you dope.”

I felt my whole face flush and get hot and said, “I have to go home.”

Nicki grabbed my arm and said, “No, stay here.  Let’s watch them fuck.”

Jesus.  Now I didn’t know what to do.  She was holding my arm and looking at me with a different kind of light in her eye.  I  started being less scared and she kind of leaned into me and clumsily we kissed.  Then, as quickly as it happened, she pulled away and smiled at me.

She ran about 20 feet away and then turned around her face red and flushed.  She said, “You better not tell anyone, fucker.”

I just nodded my head and smiled.

Published in: on June 28, 2011 at 6:48 pm  Comments (1)  

Bazooka Hulk

Bazooka Hulk
In the hands of Stan Lee and the great Jack Kirby, Bruce Banner, the mild mannered scientist, gets blasted by an assload of gamma rays.  As a result , when he gets pissed off, he turns into The Incredible Hulk, a gargantuan, knotty-muscled, green terror who runs amok and stomps the holy dog-shit out of everything in sight.  A hunk of human nihilism right out of Nietzsche; a human destruction machine that cannot control itself or its furies.  Of course, the source of his injury/super power is something the military was fucking around with.  At the beginning of the Viet Nam war it dawned on the creative community that when Eisenhower’s farewell warned us of the militaryindustrial complex, he wasn’t talking smack.  There began in America a deep distrust of this partnership.  As parents watched the escalation of the war at dinnertime every night, many of their sons came home in body bags.  For the first time, a war was fully visible in all of its bestial horror.  It entreated the dormant subversive in a great many otherwise patriotic Americans.  This was reflected in the comics.  The military as a secretive, conspiratorial presence building doomsday devices became a familiar plot line.

With its combination of elements from Frankenstein, as well as Dr. Jeckyll and Mr. Hyde, the Hulk was drawn by two of the luminaries of American comics history.  Both the great Jack Kirby and the mysterious and equally great Steve Ditko were the original artists.  There is also no small amount of The Fugitive in The Hulk as he is perpetually pursued by the military and the civilian authorities because of the torrential destruction he causes when pissed.

The Hulk has been canceled and re-introduced and re-launched a number of times.  There was also a jive TV show with Bill Bixby who turned into Lou Ferrigno with a porcupine wig when mad.  There were also two less-than-successful films that just were never as cool or as deperately paranoid as the comic book.  This begs a certain question.  Most of the films made from comics are jive. Green Lantern opened today and the word is, it sucks the big blue vein.

Thor was just okay. The Green Hornet blew goats, DareDevil was shitty and The Fantastic Four? The Thing looked like he was cobbled together out of orange turds.  They’re mostly awful,
which tells us something about what comics can do that movies cannot.  They cast their own kind of spell.  No CGI, no Michael Bay-like pyrotechnics.  Just a glossy cover over newsprint with your basic 4-color separation process.  But it has its own private voodoo.  These stories you can enjoy by yourself, and the world you voluntarily enter when you love comics, and they speak to you. . .it is not a communal experience.  It is an intimate and private one, the comic book.

I spent every dime I had as a kid on comic books, read the Sunday comics and worshipped MAD Magazine, as well.  This was the world your parents were not privy to–did not understand– the comics were where I went to be left the fuck alone. I was happy there and everything was possible–and in the Marvel Comics, good didn’t always trump evil.  It was a more complicated and believable world.  Life wasn’t fair and the guys who were different were heroes.  Special abilities were the property of the other.  Special powers were imbued in the suffering child and via this, the mutants, geeks and outcasts became powerful.  It was a compelling message for me as a child.

It seems the American appetite for superheroes has always been there.  From our formative years as a republic onward, wild west shows with butchers like Buffalo Bill Cody and George Armstrong Custer were all of the rage in New York in the 1800’s, with their tales of slaughtering Indians and buffalo, and later, Southerners.  These tales of derring-do were often recorded in dime novels and what were also referred to as the “pulps.”  Later, the Tom Mix franchise gave America its first cowboy superhero and afterward, Flash Gordon would appear, soon to be followed by other dime store mythologies that would later flower into the comics we now know.

When I was about 25, Watchmen appeared.  Alan Moore’s masterpiece is a tale of the dystopian future where Richard Nixon is still President (apparently Watergate never happened) and society has unraveled.  There are a cadre of monumentally fucked-up superheroes, who’ve failed to save us from ourselves.  They are a group of psychos, sluts, and sexual deviates and they are honestly the superheroes that most clearly mirrored us in that myopic decade.  It is a funny novel-length exercise in black humor, and penny-dreadful moralizing, but it certainly fit the America of the 1980’s.  The unspoken lesson in Moore’s great book is that most societies get exactly as much evil as they deserve.

This etching is called, Bazooka Hulk.  His power is, when he gets pissed, he smells like bubblegum, thus enhancing the experience for everyone.

Published in: on June 20, 2011 at 5:04 pm  Leave a Comment  

The Emerald Carp

The Emerald CarpThere was a guy I knew who roomed with a bunch of students from China when he was studying to be an engineer.  Right next to their dorm was a big pond full of algae, bluegills and carp.  Big fuckers–a few pounds each–so big they could slurp down frogs and other fish and amphibious creatures.  The Chinese students could not have been happier.  For them, this was like winning the fucking lotto.  Pond-raised carp; all you could catch and all you could eat.  I never knew the fuckers were edible.  These guys would make carp balls and deep fry them.  The stench from the smell of them cooking the carp was enough to gag a carrion bird, but these guys loved them some carp.  The thought of eating a carp makes me ill, much less the reality of gobbling down one of these garbage fish.  These Chinese students?  Man, those guys ate the ass out of those carp.

I love drawing the bastards, though.  To me, they’re beautiful in an odd, prehistoric way.  Plus, all of the Japanese etchings I love so much of carp and catfish make them a compelling subject for me.

In Lake Michigan, they’re trying desperately to keep the Asian carp OUT.   This is the fish that jumps out of the water and tries to fuck you up.  A fish that tries to defy the food chain.  Kind of a “Fuck you and your fishing pole, Skippy–I’m going to kill and eat YOU” type fish.

I  like them.  No shortage of stones within the Asian carp family.  The assholes in the boats go bugnutty when this happens.  they’re not used to the lowly fish fighting back.  I think it’s good.  Especially for the goofs who like to stuff fish and hang them in their house like they just caught Moby Dick’s ass.

The footage I’ve seen of the Asian carp is hysterically funny.  They come barrel-assing out of the water and sometimes slap the dopey anglers in the head.  I almost wet myself when they score a direct head shot, whereupon the angler flails his arms and screams and it fucks up his whole day.  It is screamingly funny.  There is a “man bites dog”-like schadenfreude about it.  One film I saw, there were so many fish launching themselves out of the water, it looked like a coordinated attack on the fisherman.  I laughed so fucking hard, I had to change the channel for fear of a vapor lock.  Jesus Christ it was funny.  When the douchebags start swinging oars over their heads and hit each other, it is a  laugh riot.

We always think that what goes on underwater is peaceful, blue, and bucolic.  It’s not.  Life under the waves is around-the-clock murder.  Every sea creature eating the ass out of smaller, weaker sea creatures.  I love shows about the ocean.  I saw one where this octopus blended in perfectly with some vegetation, only to jump out and surprise a starfish before ripping him scrot to throat and devouring him.  The ocean  may be beautiful and blue, but it is an extraordinarily ungentle place.  We think of dolphins as the jolly-chollies of the sea. . .until they see a shark.  They hunt and kill sharks just for fun–for snicks–and sharks kill everything; ripping ass on seals left and right, sea turtles, pot-head surfers, you name it.

In Chicago, we’re blessed with the Shedd Aquarium.  It is a beautiful collection of underwater life.  The colors alone make the eye drunk.  On Thursdays, after hours, they feed the sharks.  I’ve never seen it but friends of mine have.  A diver goes down in the huge middle tank and hand feeds the fuckers.  He is a braver man than I.

While I was in Tokyo last year, I was astounded at how beautiful some of the sushi was.  Damn near too pretty to eat.  A sushi chef explained to me the plate presentation was a way of honoring the creatures they had butchered.  I kind of liked that idea.  I asked him why there was no carp sushi?  He made a face and said Japanese don’t eat this thing and he shook his head.

Slowly but surely, the state of Illinois is building fine mesh nets to stretch across feeder-rivers in an effort to keep the Asian carp out of Lake Michigan, calling it a destructive and invasive species.  I don’t know.  I wonder if anything could fuck up the lake any worse than we have.  The years of letting steel mills and factories and tanneries dump shit into it unchecked was once so bad there were floating masses of “fecal grease-balls.”   Yum.

Maybe the Asian carp are nature’s payback.  Maybe launching themselves out of the water into some slapdick’s head is nature’s way of letting us know it has the ass over us.  That in nature, while there is no right or wrong, there ARE consequences.  And maybe we need to be slapped hard in the squash to wake the fuck up.

Published in: on June 15, 2011 at 10:23 pm  Comments (2)  

A Blue-Eyed Story

A Blue-Eyed Story (Etching)

In the angry and masterful American short story, Barn Burning, William Faulkner introduces us to Abner Snopes,  an embittered sharecropper with an introspective 10-year old son named Sarty, as well as a murderously vindictive streak, that changes all whose path he crosses.  This story finds Faulkner, writing in 1939 at the height of his naturalistic powers, his tone both frighteningly spare and mordantly funny.  Ab Snopes is one of those fuckups who cannot get out of his own way and blames all others for his dearth of character and lot in life.  This is not lost on his son, from whose point of view the story is told.  Abner exacts his revenge in the hellish and cowardly acts of arson the story’s title describes.  There are horrible images throughout this story, visually and aurally.  The one that haunts me still; the sound of horses burning and screaming in their inferno, just trying to stay in the world.  It is a searing and unforgettable story and for my money, the finest short story I’ve ever read.

I’m fond of the short story, having been treated to Raymond Carver’s, Cathedral and Where I’m Calling From, as well as Nelson Algren’s peerless collections, The Neon Wilderness and The Last Carousel as a young artist.  It’s dawned on me lately what these very different collections all have in common.

In my favorite pieces from these fine books, the thematic unity of the searching American (the one trying to find a place in the world, or trying to fit into his own) seems to be a unifying element–this, and the idea that our geography somehow becomes our destiny.

Abner Snopes is the itinerant sharecropper, wandering the countryside, only to be relegated to doing the scut work for his betters, day after day. . .searching for a better life. . .each day eroding his hope and his humanity in equal, mundane  measure.

This is our country’s great failing. . .and great virtue.  We search.  Restlessly and relentlessly, we search.  The tidally shifting circumstance of class, geography and opportunity, shape the “who” and “where”–and what we become.

This search?  It is present in all of our American behaviors since we lit onto Plymouth Rock; relentless and bloody expansion West to wider rivers, higher mountains and more bountiful fields.  The search was propelled by the twin mixed blessings  of our collective imagination and relentless desire to conquer.  In Carl Sandburg’s, The People, Yes, he observes we, the people, and every onerous settling of this new land.  We forget that America is a still relatively young culture in contrast to the rest of the world and the land was big enough to let its new  inhabitants get lost in, and to forget every transgression committed in the name of finding our place in it.  I often think of our country as a place of colliding cartographies; each new boundary or line on the map hustled, pilfered or otherwise looted from the first people of this nation.  Every map a lie and thus, now, the lie we’ve all agreed upon.

It is the job of the artist to search, to observe and to bear witness.  If we do this scrupulously, well then, we know truth of this troubling landscape; this stolen property we call home.

Whitman asked of us in his splendid poems, to bear witness, to take always, the full measure of ourselves, our place. . .every leaf of grass.  Whitman himself watched the bloody preservation of the Union in the Civil War.  At one point, while searching for his brother who was thought to be dead, he looks at a pile of amputated human limbs and he asks himself if this Republic is worth the pile of severed limbs in front of him.  The crucible of the Civil War led him to deeper, more profound questions regarding our bloody need to conquer.

The thing I’ve admired the most about Bob Dylan’s career is the search.  The furious path of an insatiable mind. . .always at work . . .the poet who changes shape and definition with every assessment.  I think of the Bob Dylan of Blonde on Blonde and the Bob Dylan of Time out of Mind, two very different records unified by one contrary spirit.  The searching takes its toll.  Dylan looks every second of his age and the idea that rue art must eventually extinguish life in its practitioner, has some gravity when we get a look at the 70-year old Dylan.  Searching exacts its price at every juncture.

I’ve made a living as an artist for a quarter century.  For 20 of those years, my wife Michele has suffered and celebrated every triumph, setback, glowing moment and bitter disappointment with me.  My restlessness has, at times, caused her great pain.  The endless searching not only taxes the artist, but those close to them as well.  Every time I swore I was alone and all on my own in this mess, she’s been there to tell me I am not.  We’ve endured the bumps and dire difficulties and she is always the strong one.  Last week we celebrated 20 years of marriage.  She could have done way better than me.

This one is for her.

Published in: on June 11, 2011 at 11:22 am  Comments (1)  

Mr. Chooch

Mr. ChoochThe first thing one must know about Chooch is that he loves me.  He gives not a fuck about what a miserable, surly, rotten prick I can be.  I’m just  jake with him.  I’m his guy.

When  people yell across the street to greet me, Chooch growls at them.  He won’t have anyone yelling shit at me.  In his golf ball-size brain he knows I am the gravy train.  All good things come from the big guy.  And like any true Chicago creature, he allows nobody to fuck with the source of his goodies.  Threaten the big guy and I will sink my teeth into your sack, Fucko.I adopted Chooch from PAWS three years ago.  He was a sad little dog trapped in a pod with a half-a-retard rottweiler who ate all of Chooch’s food and took shits bigger than your head in their tiny space.  This dog was five times the size of Chooch, so fighting the crazy bitch was not an option. He had to just take it.  It sucked to be him.When I saw him, I thought he looked like I felt.  It was a sad juncture in my life and as I looked at Chooch I thought, “My life might suck right now, but buddy, I can give you a nice life.”  And I did.  I’d never seen a dog that looked like him before.  He was small, but sturdy-looking, if skinny.  He is about the size of a sheltie, but jet-black with silver tips and highlights.  He has a gorgeous head (like a black fox) and girl dogs love him.  If he wasn’t fixed, he’d get more pussy than Sinatra.When I brought him home, he padded tentatively around my apartment, which is a big four-bedroom.  A few hours into living there, he realized that nobody was going to take him back to the gulag, where the other asshole would continue to eat his food.He was one happy  pooch.  He had some bad habits; food aggression and eating out of the garbage.  His back-story was sad.  He was a stray and then the cops rescued him from some subhuman assholes who were going to throw him to a pitbull.Choo-Choo is deathly afraid of pits.  When we’re walking and he spots one, he hides behind my legs.  He loves being walked and everyone in the neighborhood knows him by name.  Even the old Ukrainian lady has warmed up to him.  She used to call him, “Leettle devil dog; like dog who try to eat Gregory Peck in The Omen.”  I try to explain to her that this is bullshit.  The dogs who try to eat Gregory Peck in The Omen are all rottweilers.  She is convinced they all look like Chooch.Over the last couple of years though, she’s begun to like him, in spite of herself.  He grows on you.  He is very sweet and eventually you cannot elude his charm.  I like to think he charms the old lady.  Two weeks ago she threw him a piece of polish sausage.  It gave him an explosive case of the Hershey-squirts. . .but it’s the thought that counts.  Chooch seems to know when I am sad.  He sits next to me with his head on my leg and wags his ass; he has one of those tails that curves over his back, so he wags his whole ass.  It’s hysterically funny.

He also tries to chase his tail and, because it curls, he can’t catch it, and he turns furious circles until he runs into shit.  He also fancies himself a badass and wants to wrestle all of the time.

He is a good judge of character.  He treats shitheads like shitheads and when drunken assholes walk down my street being loud, he barks at them. He has the bark of a big dog and the louts usually shut up.

There is one of those useless yip dogs next door; the kind that looks like he should be tethered to a stick and used to wash windows with.  He is forever sticking his head through the fence and barking at Chooch.  The other day Chooch wasn’t having any.  The minute his yippy head came through the fence, Chooch bit it.

The lesson being, “anything on Chooch’s side of the fence. . .?  Belongeth to Chooch, mother-fucker.”  Here endeth the lesson.

That’s my dog.

Published in: on June 9, 2011 at 3:02 am  Comments (1)  

The Blue Girl

The Blue GirlA number of years ago, the bird population of Illinois and other Midwestern states was nearly devastated by West Nile virus.  For reasons I never quite understood, crows, jays, magpies, which are all part of the same family, were particularly hard hit.

When I was a caddy, one of the things I loved was the pugnacious behavior of bluejays and also finding their feathers on the golf-course; that other-worldly blue of the tail feathers, which you’d find on the ground after the spring moult happened.

They were like finding small treasures.  Other caddies would pick them up for me when they spotted them, knowing I liked birds.  The idea of the bluejay population being damn near wiped out made me immensely sad.  They’ve come back some, but not like they used to be.  When I caddied, if a golfer got too close to a bluejay nest, the female would dive-bomb the poor fucker and peck at him.  I laughed my ass off many times watching grown men run away from these birds trying to shield their heads with a putter.

The females are the bad-asses of the species.  Fool with them at your peril.  They are busybodies, loud-mouths and bullies; little gangsters who muscle other birds out of their nests.  They also love shiny objects; bottle caps, foil, keys. . .all of these things have been found in bluejay nests.  They are born thieves.

When I was a kid, this was my favorite bird to draw.  I enjoyed the black, blue and white lines.  They were fun to draw and looked nutty in my renderings.  I often drew women’s heads onto bird bodies and this made my teachers crazy.

One time in seventh grade, one of my dipshit teachers told me to only draw birds with bird heads.  Sister Elaine.  When she turned her back I muttered, “Maybe you ought to mind your own fucking business.”

The crazy old bitch heard me and it was off to the races.  I got sent home (with a note, which I ditched in the garbage) and she called my mother and raised hell.

I really hated these whackjobs.  I was convinced they were all mental defectives and nobody would acknowledge it.  I told my mother how crazy they were and she half-believed me, but knew that I provoked them.

My mom was always sending peace offerings to the nuns; homemade bread, little bottles of Jean Nate’ which, I told my mom, was like putting socks on a pig.  My mom thought she could make the nuns like me.

Oh, how wrong she was.

I declared war on the old bitches.  Lunch bags full of dog-shit in their desks. Rubber Snakes. Big chalk drawings of giant dicks on the blackboard.  You name it; I did it.

They always knew it was me because of the quality of the rendering.  I took special care to only draw big, veiny, throbbing tools, accompanied by an ample and hairy sack.

They would tell me they knew it was me, and god help me if they caught me.
I’d tell them, if they didn’t catch me. . .I didn’t do it.

The brides of Christ looked upon me with a jaundiced eye.  My philosophy was return fire.  If they were going to make my life miserable, I believed  I would share the pain.

I started referring to Sister Regina as ‘”Reggie'” or “Slappy.”  When she would sarcastically say, “Good morning, Mr. Fitzpatrick.  Nice of you to grace us with your presence,” I’d say, “Glad I could be here, Slappy.  How’s life in the mental home?”  Then she would go bat shit and send me home with a note (which I would ditch) and I’d get suspended for a couple of days.  How’s that for punishment?

Oh, you can’t come to school for three days?  Boo-Hoo.  Wow. . .hurt me.

In early folklore, bluejays were thought to be handservants of the devil because of their noisy and boisterous nature.  I remember them as a pleasant and mysterious part of childhood.  The mystery being that you would see them everyday for a while (a weeek or so) and then they would disappear for six months until I’d almost forget about them and then they’d be back.  I was always wondering where the fuck they went.  They were the Houdinis of the natural world.

In high school, I had a job cutting grass in Queen of Heaven cemetery during the summers.  The place was full of pine trees and thus, bluejays.  In fact, if you want to see a lot of birds, go to any cemetery.  It is a relatively safe place for them.  As accidental bird sanctuaries, they are a safe place to nest and enjoy relative safety from humans cutting down trees and shooting birds.

I kind of liked that job.  I worked with lots of guys from Mexico and in the middle of the afternoon, one of them would hop the fence and go buy beer.  we’d hide our mowers and drink beer in the bushes and smoke cigarettes and take naps.  It was great.  Learned all of the dirty words in Spanish I could think of and met people from another part of the world who were nothing like me, except that we wanted the same things;  to work outside and to be left the fuck alone.

I loved watching birds with these guys.  They could imitate bird calls and told me in Mexico, at night, birds turned into angels.

Published in: on June 4, 2011 at 12:03 am  Comments (1)  
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