I’m in the midst of heavy research on the song cycle La Chanson D’Eve, tech week for a minor opera scenes performance, and preparing my students for a recital of their own. And I have writer’s block. My weekly motto is: enjoy a tall pitcher of martini, take a deep sigh, and get shit done.
Check out this H.L. Mencken essay on drinking: “But what is reliable stuff? What is the thing to drink, specifically? I go back to my Rule No. 1. The better thing to drink, whenever there is a choice, is the milder thing. Wine is better than a highball, a highball is better than a cocktail, and a cocktail is better than hard liquor taken straight.” Agree or disagree? I love Mencken as much as the next armchair academic, but I must voice my dissent.
triumphant return to chicago– a whirlwind of cheap wine, casual bump-intos on the street, drives down lsd, and the anti-climatic return to diner haunts. Something was missing this time, unable to locate it– that fuzzy irritation in the back of my consciousness. writer’s block prevents the stream of brassy swing with double bass undertow from getting real hot. for now. Verbal impotence. Take this shot of my lackluster doughnut as consolation.
I looked out into blackest night and only one winking eye appeared wavering in the dark. Come on, it said, I won’t tell anyone you’re actually a phony. But they’ll see my shoes, I complained. Too sad with their dowdy tips and feeble attempts at self-preservation. They’ll see my hands, too softened from a lapse in toil, a mind lumpy and pockmarked with the asinine aspects of this daily struggle of privilege. A mess of paradox.
Come on, needled the eye, I know you’re as tired as a camel.
Out into deepest, darkest night.
Where are the lights, where are the skyscrapers with their own little winking twinkling winkling secrets where women no longer leave guests at the lobby and wear peignoirs. Where it’s more complicated than I originally thought.
I wanted to walk around in a trench coat and swig coffee from stained mugs. Drop in. Drop out. Anonymous and head bent. But I am not noir I am not male I am not in the right place at the right time. I’m in the deepest, darkest night.
I am a camel who has no water but thought she was fine when she first unbended knobby knee and set out across the dessert. Into the eye of the needle. The needle of the twinkling voices of doubt.
Late nights at the arts center, hugging the geometric curves of sleek cinder block corridors of its bowels, have kept me from prowling the streets and my memories in search of the next rocks pour. So I carry the next shot in my purse, a leather flask tippled in parking garages. Soon, I will slouch back to Merry Ann’s or go visit my old friend the Pittsfield, perhaps?
Formally met Jeff on the elevator. He’s the resident Saxman. Goes out and plays under the Granville El platform many nights of the week and lets it rip, standards, new stuff; always the same smooth tone and impressive athleticism a chocolately-bottom-trawling growl and a smooth ascent to the top and the wind-in-the-treessigh, Ahhh in the trees wanting to say, yeah man. I’m constantly amazed at the musical quality that abounds in this city, from the most glamorous stages to the seediest underpasses. I can hear him from my open window and I like to hum along when he belts out “I Loves You Porgy.” He lives on my floor, and I’ve have a few polite chats with him before, and actually asked him about the Jazz Festival a few nights ago. Had a quick little conversation about Muhal Richard Abrams and his crazy modern sounds, and how we couldn’t really dig Madeleine Peyroux. It took a crowd of Chicagoans to make me realize my folly in labeling her a “jazz” musician. What was she doing up there? I was so confused. I had to leave that night. What was this stuff? The middle-aged suburbanites around me nodded their heads along with the tame beat and square guitar and realized I suffered from a bout of craziness.
Jeff’s lived in this building for ten years. A large older fellow with a penchant for flowery Hawaiian shirts in various shades of steel gray, blue, and green. The kind of guy you’d see wearing socks and Birkenstocks together.
Listen to me, kid. 2012 is old hack now. She may have been a glorious dame, pure thrills. Sexy? Sure. But that’s over now. Pull on that overcoat and go get 2013.
Where I live the blocks are mixed; past a stop sign a road is flanked with the large-wrap-around-porch-rehabs with perfect landscaping owned by upper-middle-class townies and tenured professors and but a few jaunts east there will be the drab sagging collection of apartments, sublets, and duplexes inhabited by those blighted by Central Illinois’ financial woes and students who are too poor or too bored or too wrapped up in the collegiate experience to care. A gray day makes the vinyl siding look even more stained and moldy. Passing one intersection I happen to glance at a hand-written sign outside a mud-toned house with dead lawn and cracked cement porch, enscribed in a black pen so light it’s barely legible. The sign read:
AREN’T YOU GLAD
IT’S ALL OVER?
A few blocks down, a yard bears a stenciled sign reading: “Study Your Bible.”
I’ve enjoyed a whiskey in so many places– I can usually map an area by the whiskeys I’ve consumed and whether or not a rocks pour counted extra. There are few times in life when a neat pour is acceptable.
Cavanaugh’s existed nestled in an alley and in the basement of the historic Monadnock Building, about two blocks from my old job. I preferred Elephant and Castle for lunch breaks, to down a couple and eat greasy fried pretzels before trudging in the snow back to my prison. But Monadnock was reserved for after 5, for days when I had twenty minutes to burn and no martinis to look forward to. A place wherein it is only acceptable to enter in a trench coat and rub one’s five o’clock shadow with chagrin before sipping. That warm wood bar so welcoming, that basement vibe so cozy. Too bad it was ruined by grating modern music and bar mistresses lacking the requisite cynicism.
There’s a sadness in those bare ice cubes, how out of place they are without the whiskey, how out of place I was sitting there. Yet I am comfortable alone at a bar. It is the most comfortable, to be quite honest. I had a slow burn romance with the wooden bar, with a place for my elbows and place for my whiskey to reside without shame, between cupped hands.
I pretend I’m an editor or a publisher on Printer’s Row, circa 1935.