In his old age, they tried to get the actor Robert Mitchum to quit drinking. They dragged his ass to the Betty Ford Clinic and dried him out. He bristled at the new-agey, feel-good bromides about sobriety and the make-work routine of doing your own laundry and other humbling exercises. He thought it was horse shit. Before he left the place, he walked out to the pool with a Chesterfield dangling from the corner of his mouth, his perpetually hooded eyes squinting in the sunlight and stood at the deep end of the pool. He unzipped and arced a high sticky piss into the pool.
This was a sign he was ready to leave.
A friend picked him up from the clinic and he proceeded to drive Mitchum home down Sunset Boulevard. When they got to the pink edifice of the Beverly Hills Hotel, Mitchum instructed him to pull in. Mitchum ambled into the Polo Lounge and ordered a tall scotch on the rocks. Drinking it down in one prodigious sip, Mitchum fired up a Chesterfield, looked at his friend and said, “Fuck ’em all.”
My pal, John McNaughton, loves to relay this story about the great Mitchum whenever he tells me about Mitch’s autobiography, Baby, I Don’t Care. And boy, he didn’t. Part of his effortless presence was his refusal to do anything as obvious as act–Mitchum embodied.
With easy charm, rakish good looks and a world-weary, wise-ass verbal style, he was cooler than Brando. No method dogshit for him. His own physicality and aura were enough. He didn’t give a fuck. And every day of his life, the wise American male wishes he were more like Mitchum.
I know I do.
Hawaiian birds had really not had anything in the way of natural enemies, other than weather and the tribal plume hunters who decorated their headdresses with bright colored feathers.
Some months ago I had some fun with bird watchers in my column. I really tweaked the fuckers, painting them as a snobby coven of geeks; a cult of 50-year old guys who lived with their moms. I was being a dick as a result of one encounter with a bunch of them in Cape May, New Jersey in which the birdy folk ostracized me for smoking a cigarette outside.
Jesus Christ, the mail I get. Fuck. I’ve been pounding on politicians, as well, hitting the fuckers with everything but the car, and I haven’t heard dick. But piss off the bird watchers and they want to throw down and kick my pasty Irish ass. In fact, some of them said as much. And they’re not all dainty old ladies. Some of them are BIG Grizzly Adams-looking motherfuckers who could stomp a mudhole in my ass.
Luckily, a great many of them had a good sense of humor. Two of their number, Joel Greenberg and Greg Neise, have become good friends. Every two weeks I importune these two guys who are naturalists, scientists and life-long birders, and they teach me about birds. I’ve drawn them since I was a child. They’ve been a sense of wonder in my life for as long as i can remember. I told these guys about the first time I saw a goldfinch. It was on the ground and just kind of busted to life and flight and nearly touched me in its ascent. I remember running home to my mother and telling her that I’d seen a dandelion turn into a bird.
Both Greg and Joel are endlessly patient with me and the total tonnage of what I don’t know.
Joel Greenberg devoted 25 years of his life to writing a natural history of Chicago and its environs. He sent the book to me some years ago and it is fascinating. Both he and Greg Neise enlightened me to the frightening decline of jays, blackbirds and crows due to the West Nile virus that ravaged bird populations all over America almost a decade ago. Among birders and naturalists this was a horrifying bell-weather moment, yet also an opportunity to learn something about the mechanics of extinction. Why and how it happens.
One of the best examples of this is Hawaii–a bunch of islands that act almost as kind of a biosphere–in fact, not even kind of. An actual biosphere.
A great many honey creeper family bird species have been wiped out by cats and mosquitoes, much like the Galapagos, another biosphere. Introduced species had the evolutionary advantage over native species in that they could adapt faster to their environment.
The American bluebirds’ numbers dropped precipitously when the European starling and the English sparrow were introduced. Both birds were notorious nest thieves. Basically these birds were Joe Pesci with wings. The American bluebird was pushed west of the Mississippi for the most part. Only now, is it beginning to re-establish its range in Illinois, largely through the efforts of birders who carefully monitor the populations of all bird species. Science is aided greatly by the efforts of birders and organizations like the American Birding Association.
So much for my petty jokes about “birdy people.” They are part of the solution and I am some dork who draws pictures.
They have taught me much and I am grateful for their tolerance and largeness of heart toward dopes like me.
I plan on making a bunch of the extinct and nearly-extinct birds because whether we know it or not, they are part of the magic of our lives, part of the wonder, and in no small way, we share a fate.
In the last few years, the city of Chicago has inched closer and closer to the “Big Brother” modality Orwell warned us of. The cops and the Mayor can’t do shit about the 21 people shot this weekend (10 of them died), but blow a yellow light or roll through a stop sign, and the city is up in your crevices like sand.
There are cameras every-fucking-place, except where the homicides are being done. Chicago is rabid for its bicycle lanes, and 5K runs and making sure the retail end of town is spiffy–the “quality-of-life” horseshit the former Mayor went on about ad nauseum. This is the guy who needed flower pots in the middle of Ashland Avenue. You know what I need from Ashland Avenue?
Cheap shoes and good burritos, Skippy. That’s it. Now ambulances have a hard time getting down Ashland in high traffic-volume hours.
I’d not be surprised if all of this beautification made the city less safe. The cameras are really a bite in the ass though. It is another of the city government’s nauseating nickel and diming of its citizenry to death–this and the dip-shits in the neon vests who pretend they’re cops and hand out parking tickets, even when there has been no infraction. Don’t tell me these mouth breathers don’t have quotas, either.
It used to be a more pleasant city; less predatory and punitive in its leveeing of fines for petty bullshit. It seems to have infected us as well.
Every swinging dick in the village has a camera–every cell phone. Every simpleton act now seems worthy of recording, just because you have a cell-camera. At my gym I saw one guy filming another guys while he shaved his sack. Really? You really want to have a home movie of that?
Or the people who take pictures of their food to send you on Facebook. People who are NOT chefs. People with earth-shaking messages to share with the world like, “I ate a Muffin.”
How nice for you.
Or the newly proud parents who send you little films of every drool, dump and upchuck their newly hatched offspring emits because it is all so adorable.
It isn’t. Knock it the fuck off.
It is us filming us; the sidewalks are clogged with assholes holding their cellphones over their heads at the sight of anything they deem out of the ordinary, or a bunch of shitkickers from Bettendorf, Iowa stopping foot traffic to get a shot of “all of the traffic. Jeez, they won’t believe this back in Bum-Fuck!”
The cameras are everywhere–except where they are needed.
Twenty people were shot in our city over the weekend. Six of them died. And these totals are DOWN from last weekend.
Most of them were children.
Not that I or you want to see film of this. No. We’d be happier seeing cops walking beats in these neighborhoods. Have the high-crime areas on Comp-U-Stat and flood the neighborhood with blue. Cops on foot. . .cops on bikes. . .two-man patrols. Let the assholes know you’re watching them and taking notice in the most aggressive posture possible.
I was impressed by the restraint Police Chief Garry McCarthy used at the NATO protests a few weeks back. It spoke volumes that he was present, on the ground, face-to-face with protesters and urging calm among his men. He is right about one idea: You lead from the front. Now it is time for all of these cameras and witnesses to do some good.
Put cops where the cameras cannot look.
Focus law enforcement on the gaping wounds and not the mosquito bites.
Hire officers of color to work the neighborhoods where white officers might be the subject of distrust. Let children see someone who looks like them upholding the law, serving and protecting.
Make sure they are present–flesh and blood–and maybe with a smile, unlike some camera perched high on a pole.
Instead of cheap inhuman surveillance?
Bear witness to the city.
Through April 1st of this year there were already 120 homicides in Chicago. A great many of them are kids shooting kids over drug turf, gang symbols and words. While the police continue to police the tonier neighborhoods and protect property, there is a genocide of teenagers in the wrong-headed “War on Drugs.” It’s actually a war on the poor. . .