Wednesday, October 31, 2007


No, not that kind of quickie. Get your minds out of the gutter for just a moment. As most of you know, my job is keeping me insanely busy and likely will through Thanksgiving, if not Christmas. That being said, I'd still like to sneak in updates where I can. So here are a few short ones, most of which go back to essays past:

My Artistic Friends
Superbadfriend used to be a co-worker and is still one of my best friends. She's also one of the most creative people I know, working with encaustics (paint made from pigments, beeswax and resin) and found objects. And now? She has a website. Go there and check out her amazing work. If you see something you might want to hang in your own home (like the miniature pieces I'm honored to have hanging in mine), shoot her an email and ask about prices. And even if you don't want to buy anything right now, just shoot her an email anyway--she's one of the sweetest, most friendly, most supportive people you'll ever talk to.

This Sporting Life
Cubs fans: You don't need Alex Rodriguez--you already have enough overpriced players who can't hit in the playoffs. White Sox fans: Aaron Rowand is a free agent--hope the team signs him and regains some of that spark back that they had when they won the World Series. Blackhawks fans: Getting home games on TV is a great place to start--hope they put something on the ice worth watching. Bulls fans: You don't need Kobe Bryant--he won't win you any more championships by himself than he won in LA by himself. Bears fans: With no running game, defenders who can't tackle and a former Pro Bowler with an arthritic back and a pissy attitude (hey, it's the media's fault your back hurts, Mr. Urlacher), the quality of your starting quarterback is suddenly the least of your concerns--happy now?

The Daley Grind
So nice of you, Mr. Mayor, to set aside your obsession with the 2016 Olympics (which a lot of Chicagoans don't want anyway since it'll make us more of a terrorist threat and create bigger traffic headaches than we already have) and your record tax increase proposal (so enormous that quite a few of us, myself included, might have to move out of the city in the near future because we won't be able to afford to live here anymore) in order to focus, if only for a minute or two, on the budget crisis at the CTA. Good to know you can pay attention to the near future--as in literally days from now--instead of going glassy-eyed like an addled 5-year-old who starts dreaming about Christmas Day in April.

Speaking of the CTA...
All those lovely, laminated signs you have taped up at bus stops and those equally eye-catching ones on the trains where paid advertisements usually are found must have cost some serious coinÑcoin you keep telling everybody and anybody with ears on their heads you don't have. I know the CTA needs a permanent funding solutions, I don't want any of my bus or train routes getting axed, and I do want our Governor and Speaker of the House to stop their dick-wagging contest because they're both coming off like short, short men. But printing and distributing all those signs and flyers makes it look like you've got money to spare or that the agency isn't particularly well managed or both--not the best impression when you've got your hand out.

The Rainbow Bridge
Sometimes, pet names qualify as truth in advertising.

Example: Stubby, a gray calico who was small, short and missing at least three joints off her tail. Her nickname, Squally, fit as well: for something so small, she sure was loud. She lived a long and mostly placid life with Mom, but even long and placid lives have an end. She'd been sick for some time--can't remember whether it was her kidneys or her thyroid--and when scheduling dinner recently, Mom told me Stubby' s time was nearly at hand; she was barely eating and had lost a lot of weight (and she never weighed much to begin with).

So the next time I came over, I sought Stubby out. She was in a cardboard box in the dining room, small and frail in the darkness. I reached in and stroked her head; she rubbed against my hand and purred loudly. As I walked away, she rose unsteadily, vaulted from the box to the dining room table (as much as a cat on her deathbed can actually "vault") and staggered unsteadily after me. I picked her up (she weighed next to nothing), carried her to the living room and set her in my lap, where she stayed for the remainder of the evening, alternately purring at being petted and staring off into the distance at something the rest of us couldn't see.

One Last Thing
Halloween is my favorite holiday. Has been since I was a kid. Always loved decorating my apartment for the occasion, watching movies with my friends, the whole deal. (Okay, not so much the dressing up part--once you spend an evening in a Lancelot Link, Secret Chimp costume, you're pretty much scarred for life.) So tonight, I'll be in front of the TV in La Casa del Terror, tasty treats at hand, remote in hand, and monsters traversing my, screen. Have a happy and safe Halloween, one and all.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Three and Out

This year, baseball season in Chicago didn't end at the beginning of October, like it does most every year. It actually went on for another week. But it probably should have gone on for at least one week more.

The Cubs won their division, going to the playoffs for the first time since 2003, when they just barely missed going to their first World Series since 1945.

Unfortunately, they didn't stay in the playoffs for very long this year, swept in the first round by the Arizona Diamondbacks. The starting pitching wasn't particularly good, save for Carlos Zambrano's solid performance in Game 1.

Manager Lou Piniella, who had helped take this team from worst to first in one year, has been roundly criticized for taking Zambrano out of the game in favor of reliever Carlos Marmol, who prompty gave up the home run that proved to be the game winner. However, this is what Piniella had done all yearÑget the starter to pitch six innings and use Marmol in the seventh, Bob Howry in the eighth and Ryan Dempster to close--and Marmol had a terrific year, so it wasn't so much a bad move as a good move that backfired.

Then again, if Piniella really pulled Zambrano in an attempt to keep him fresh for Game 4--a game that now will never come--then he deserved to have the move backfire.

Ted Lilly was smacked around in the second game, and Lilly in turn smacked his mitt (or, rather, slammed it to the ground) after giving up a home run. Rich Hill couldn't hold Arizona in check in the third game, and that was that.

Far worse than the pitching, though, was the hitting. The Cubs three leading home run hitters--Alfonso Soriano, Derrek Lee and Aramis Ramirez--not only didn't have a single home run among them in the series, but didn't have a run batted in among them, either. Worst of all was Ramirez, who didn't even manage a single hit in twelve at-bats.

The Cubs' situational hitting was atrocious as well, leaving runner after runner stranded on base. When, after Diamondbacks pitcher Livan Hernandez walked the bases loaded, the usually reliable Mark DeRosa, on a 3-1 count, swung at a pitch just above his ankles and weakly hit into an inning-ending double play, you could see the crowd at Wrigley Field visibly deflate, embrace their fate and start looking ahead to next yearÑthe 100th anniversary of the team's last World Series championship.

The White Sox, on the other hand, have won a World Series within living memory--two years ago, in fact--but finished this season with a lowly 70-92 record due to poor middle relief pitching, lousy run production and erratic managing by Ozzie Guillen, who seemed to spend as much time spewing forth profanity-laces tirades to the media as he did calling out his poorly performing players.

Many times, after such a lost season, the manager is the first to get tossed out the door. That's not how they roll on the South Side, though. Owner Jerry Reinsdorf and general manager Ken Williams renewed Guillen's contract for another five years. Why they did so when Guillen had one year remaining on his existing contract is a bit of a mystery. Maybe they have confidence in Gullien's ability to turn things around, presumably with some fresh faces brought in via free agency and trades. Maybe they blame the players more than they blame Guillen and his coaching staff. Or maybe they just wanted to piss of Sun-Times sports columnist (and notorious Reinsdorf/Guillen-hater) Jay Mariotti.

If the latter is the case, maybe they didn't realize that they were guaranteeing Mariotti, who likes to write about the same topics over and over again without having anything fresh to say about them, another five years' worth of material, and guaranteeing those unfortunate enough to read his column five years' worth of stale, uninspired vitriol.

Thanks, guys. Thanks a bunch.

Whatever the case, it's an odd move to make for a team in need of fresh air. Perhaps that will come along with those new players, especially if they're middle relievers capable of coming in, shutting down the opposition's offense and getting the game to All-Star closer Bobby Jenks, or hitters capable of getting hits when runners are in scoring position.

Guess we'll just have to wait until spring training to fine out.

In the 'bout them Bears?

Monday, October 8, 2007

17 Years Gone

I wrote the following essay about Lorri Jackson several years ago for a webpage dedicated to her memory and managed by her sister, Leann. The page hasn't been updated in ages, so before it vanishes outright, I'm migrating over to my own site, with minor edits. I've also posted the poem that I wrote at the time in a separate entry.

Tuesday is the 17th anniversary of her death. And it still doesn't seem real--or right.

"Pierced nose, combat boots, heart tattoo over left breast, white fishnets, plaid skirt, paint-stained ripped t-shirt, black hair." That was the laundry list I scribbled in my journal the first time I met Lorri Jackson.

It was 1985. We were both busting ass as students in the Creative Writing department at Columbia College. I also worked part-time as a tutor, helping Columbia students with their grammar, punctuation and spelling problems. Lorri had signed up to be tutored for a semester not because she needed help with her writing--Lord knows she didn't--but because she wanted to be a tutor herself and this would be a way for her to see what it was like. And I was to be her example of fine tutorial skill. Yikes.

We didn't get along at first. She didn't need my help and thought our sessions were a waste of time. I thought her personality came across "like ammonia" (another note from my journal), and her fiction was as dark and uncompromising as anything I'd ever read before. But as the weeks passed, we spent more and more of out time just bullshitting about anything that came to mind: music (she liked Black Flag); our childhoods (I was a life-long Chicagoan, she a self-described "army brat"); and, more than anything else, our writing. We were both poets. We both like Baudelaire. And the more we talked about what we were most passionate about, the more we got along. Still, it was usually Lorri who, 90 minutes or so into the session, who'd tap her watch and saying "C'mon, Ed. We gotta get some work done." So we'd go over her prose, I'd ask questions about why certain characters were doing what they were doing the way they were doing it, and she'd do a quick rewrite that maintained the same ti ghtness of language, but expanded the level of detail. Damn, she was good.

By the end of that semester, we were friends--not tight buds who always hung out together, but more a "happy to see you when I see you" kind of thing. We'd squat in the halls, shoot the shit, compare notes, have a laugh. Lorri became a tutor the next semester, and we wound up in our first Advanced Poetry Workshop together.

During that first Workshop together, Lorri and I both had poems published in a local arts magazine called Black & White. We had to go to the editor's apartment in Palmer Square to pick up our complimentary copies, and I was the native who knew the turf, so we hopped on the El together and made our way there. We got 15 copies apiece--presumably to be distributed to friends, family, strangers on the street, etc. Lorri swiped a few extra copies and shared her take with me once we were safely away.

In class, Lorri could be vicious with her criticism or, more often than not, would kick an impatient leather-clad foot while her eyes seared holes in the carpet yarn. If she respected a poet, though, she could be generous and constructive with her criticism. One time, I had written a poem with extremely dense language and excessively long lines. Lorri suggested making the lines shorter, giving readers a chance to rest their eyes while setting them up for the next surprise. With much shorter lines grouped in small stanzas, the poem was much stronger--Lorri was dead-on.

On another occasion, we got into a spirited discussion about the use of the word "feel" in poetry. I'd written a poem that started with the line "Some nights, I feel the need." Lorri argued that since the poem itself was an expression of feeling, actually using the word "feel" was redundant. I got the point and changed the line to "Some nights, I have the need." That alteration changed the whole tone of the poem--it was no longer just about "feeling" an emotion, but about being possessed by it.

After a few more workshops together, JB (my best friend, then and now), Lorri and I were selected by Paul Hoover to help edit the first issue of Columbia Poetry Review. We'd plunder student folders (including our own), pull work that struck our fancies and get together sporadically to narrow down our selections. We had our last "meeting" in the lobby of the Wabash campus in July of 1987, just after we three had graduated from Columbia. Lorri showed up at that last session with a blood-red eye, which she said didn't hurt--just a burst blood vessel--but it looked like hell. She'd been at a party where her then-boyfriend had punched somebody out just to get some attention. They got attention, all right--they got the piss beat out of them, and Lorri got popped in the eye by a "new-wave Frankenstein." Somehow, we go a laugh out of it.

And that's what I remember more than anything else--the laughs and smiles, even when things weren't particularly funny. I didn't know the Lorri Jackson who lived on the dark side. I knew that Lorri existed--how could you read her work and NOT know?--but I never did meet that woman. The Lorri I knew was sweet and funny and generous. I believed, in the typical arrogance of youth, that Lorri, JB and I had the talent to change the face of American poetry. Lorri, though, had the drive to make herself a presence in the poetry scene, like her or not. She did numerous readings all over the city--and, later, around the country as well--often taking the mike off the stand and prowling the stage, pausing to emphasize words or phrases, not letting the audience have the comforting option of tuning her out. I didn't stay in close contact with her after graduation, but I did see her occasionally at readings, and I followed her rising career with--guess what?--a smile.

I won't go into all that was said after she died or the anger and sadness that took hold of me. As I said, my memories of Lorri J. had a lot more to do with having respect for her as a poet and appreciation for her as a friend than they do with the reasons why she isn't here anymore.

One more memory, then, and I'll be on my way:

The last time I saw Lorri was at the reading for the second issue of Columbia Poetry Review, which neither of us edited, but we both had poems in it, so there we were. We didn't really talk, just said "Hi" and exchanged pleasant greetings. After the reading, though, there was a small reception with a nice buffet, and as I made my way up the hall toward it Lorri motored past me, humming like a cropduster with a belly full of pesticide. "C'mon, Ed," she called back over her shoulder, "I'm gonna beat ya!" And she did beat me there. In fact, she kicked my ass.

She always did. And all these years later, she still does.

Sunday, October 7, 2007


The following poem was written shortly after Lorri Jackson's death in October 1990. It was read months later at a public memorial and was also published in Tommorrow Magazine.

This ain't intended as no fucking
ode to The Dead Junkie Society,
cool versers gone cold, clogged
with mucus, nodded on someone
else's couch with baby powder,
cellophane, tattoos permanent
shirt sleeves down arms not telling
any more war stories penned by
way too many 5 AMs, street brawls
with Nazi skinheads, days and
nights of leather and pervasive
darkness, persuasive horses, cans
of Black Label nursed in back
of Link's Hall, Tony Fitzpatrick
on stage, huge, reading lines
about Roberto Clemente gunning
balls in Wrigley Field out to
a grove of folding chairs on
hardwood, smoking; afternoons
laid out in long beige halls,
classroom doors gouged open for
semi-circle jerks; combat boots,
white fishnet kicking, intolerant
eyes combusting carpet weave,
words attitude ammonia under
noses,under nails conservative,
tapping, impatient with pierced-
nosed punkers swiping mikes from
varnished-to-dead podiums, chrome-
plated stands on barroom poet
combat zones, walking coals, toetip
prowl matching sweet streetcar
howl now flatlined, confined to
fog memory; paste-up scraps of
tripping to Palmer Square to pick up
our contributors' copies of first
published poems in Black & White
--scissored slices back
between the plasterboard walls
thin enough to pound thoughts in,
fluorescent stretching plates of
higher education escaped from.
No defecation, no deification:
Just surprising simple flicks
where you say you wanna have
kids someday, say you think
white people are scary but that
I'm not and I feel complemented,
say you don't believe I have a
Lorri Jackson "Collection" until
I drop the blue binder dripping
with mimeobooks cranked out on
the office copier, pass-around
pages, a piece for sweater torn
off in class and named "Henry,"
into your hands and you smile,
flip, sign inside: "OK Edwardian
I believe you. Lorri J." And in
October, when I hadn't seen you
since you told the audience at
Columbia about the poem about
the woman you said you terrorized
just because you walked in
on her giving your boyfriend--
"Excuse me, ex-boyfriend"--head,
I clipped your obituary from
The Louisville Courier-Journal
into the blue binder at the end
and it was the very last thing I
ever wanted to add God damn you.