Monday, December 27, 2004

I like food. Food tastes good.

Everyone else will throw top ten movie and music lists on their blogs, so I present my ten favorite meals eaten in 2004.

In no order:

Pasta e fagiloli from Café Baci. Delicious soup that comes as close to what I used to eat at the St. Joseph’s day table as anything I’ve found. And it’s made from vegetable stock. Infinitely better than the minestrone you’ll find in the junk Italian joints around town. Honorable mention: Genovese pizza.

Peapods stir-fried with tofu from Oodles of Noodles. And carrots and water chestnuts and garlic as well. A simple dish anyone could make at home but I always come back to this dirty little noodle shop on Clark. I used to eat there on my lunch break during the Aspidistra years and I guess it just feels good to go back. I ought to buy a damn wok and just stay home, but what the hell? Someone has to keep these people in business. Honorable mention: curry fired rice.

Potato leek soup from the Soup Box. I adore this place. A simple little hole-in-the-wall on Broadway that makes some fantastic soup. A good bowl of soup is my passion, and there is always something there to get passionate about. It is hard to pick one soup among the many, but this one sticks out in my memory for having the perfect cream to potato balance. And it’s as cheap as it is filling. Honorable mention: lentil soup.

Corn chowder and a veggie burger from Fresh Choice. The one-two punch of hot corn chowder and the sub-style veggie patty makes for good sustenance before a long night of whisky at the Bistro Margot (where I can't afford to eat). Honorable mention: tortilla soup.

Ensalada de nopalitos con tortillas from El Milagro. Cactus salad complete with onion, cheese and cilantro marinated endlessly in oil, piled on a fresh, hot tortilla. Sundays are not the same without this delicacy. Honorable mention: Chiles rellenos.

Vegetarian shepherd’s pie from The Chicago Diner. I just ate this for the first time last week but it left a deep impression. The base is lentil and grains topped with a yam crust and covered in gravy. Served with broccoli and a corn muffin, this is a huge meal without a scrap of meat. So filling I had to nap afterward. Honorable mention: French onion soup.

Spinach cannelloni from Rosebud. I lament not trying the pasta with garlic oil and red peppers, but this was something pretty damn spectacular. Simple, which is often the best way to go. The sauce is a tomato base with rosemary, which elevates the dish considerably. Honorable mention: The giant house salad.

Eggplant Parmesan from Rose Angelis. This not-so-secret Italian Eden oddly located on Wrightwood in the middle of residences and neighborhood bars offers absurd portions of old world favorites. My birthday is usually spent working this dish under the belt and man-oh-man this year was no exception. They layer the breaded eggplant and pile it high like an edible tower of Babel. God knows I couldn’t speak after cleaning my plate. Honorable mention: The rest of the menu.

Deep dish spinach pizza from Bacino’s. Pizza, my Achilles’ heel. I could eat pizza daily, and once did. Eschewing the sausage and pepperoni, I found it is not such a bad thing to subsist on pizza. And I love Bacino’s, even though the service often sucks and I have to travel to Lincoln Park to eat there. Oh well, some things are worth suffering for. Honorable mention: Spinach calzone.

Vegetable couscous at Andies. When in Andersonville, my brother and I debate over Rezas vs. Andies (as well a million other pressing issues) and it clear where our respective loyalties lie. I think it comes down to which place offers the better veggie meals, and that is definitely Andies. More a Mediterranean restaurant than Middle Eastern, they offer some pretty damn good eats but nothing beats this dish. Lots of red peppers, eggplant and raisins dancing merrily in a field of couscous. Divine. Honorable mention: Potato chops.

Thursday, December 23, 2004

Random Literature Post

Goddamnit, there's not enough on this shitblog about literature. Let's fix that:

Just started reading Orlando by Virginia Woolf and am thinking of how serendipitous it is that several of the books I have read recently outside of the classroom relate to what I have been studying. Mainly, I am thinking of Jeanette Winterson and her wonderful books, The Powerbook and Sexing the Cherry. I had to read some of Morte Darthur for British Literature class, which helped as I read Winterson’s chapter on Lancelot and Guinevere in The Powerbook. And the setting for Sexing the Cherry struck me as familiar only after reading the Elizabethan works in class. And now I am reading of young Orlando sitting with Queen Elizabeth.

These are not planned concurrences. It almost makes me believe in the sort of magic that Winterson loves to spin in her novels. I could use some magic these days. The cold isn’t doing it for me. Thank god for books (and little else).

My plan is to read Woolf and try and squeeze in either a Calvino book or maybe that last Umberto Eco novel. Or maybe another Jeanette Winterson. Only three more books and I’ll have read her entire cannon. At this moment I am torn between the towering queens of English literature and the modern geniuses of Italian writing. All things considered—it being the holidays, a season teeming with false cheer, thoughts of suicide, rampant commercialism and smiling humanity at its ugliest—I could be presented with worse quandaries.

Book Reports:

Sexing the Cherry by Jeanette Winterson

I really liked this one, not as much as The Powerbook or even Written on the Body, but it carried from start to finish the grand vision Winterson has displayed elsewhere. Damn fine stuff, well worth the price of admission. I plan to stalk her.

Arcadia by Sir Philip Sidney

I only read the first book, which was enough. I mean that in the positive sense. His sister finished the story after his death, so I am somewhat inclined toward reading the rest. I'll get to it. This has everything one could ask for in a pastoral satire: cross dressing, gender conflicts, social conventions torn to shreds, false bravado crumbling under love’s mighty clubbed foot. Great for the whole family.

100 Love Sonnets by Pablo Neruda

How does one spell love in Spanish? N-E-R-U-D-A.

Love is a Dog From Hell by Charles Bukowski

Juxtaposed with Neruda’s brilliant style, Buk delivers with another collection of odd, dirty and fun poems. He remains the patron saint of drunken college aged males everywhere (myself included circa 1994) but the moments that glimmer stay with me longer than the tales of gambling on horses and mad women. And there are many moments that glimmer.

Don Juan by Lord Byron

I haven’t read this one in some time, actually, but I really want to go back and reread not only Byron’s Spenserian sonnets but also my notes from DePaul lit class. Chances are, I was even more full of shit back then.

Love Poems by Anne Sexton

An all time favorite and the 3rd to make the list with "Love" in the title. “The Ballad of the Lonely Masturbator” and “That Day” make it more than worthwhile but her line, “My mouth blooms like a cut” used when writing about a kiss cements this as a classic in the VRF library. One of my heroes.

The Pentagonia by Reinaldo Arenas

I would advise anyone who would listen to read all five books, which are, in their correct order: Singing From the Well, The Palace of the White Skunks, Farewell to the Sea, The Color of Summer and The Assault. Each one is fucking amazing, each one is a testament to Arenas’ genius, and I rarely use that word. Read them? Good, now go and read The Doorman and laugh your ass off.

The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov

Many times I have tried to explain, describe and praise this novel to friends and I always sound like an idiot (more so than currently) so I will not make such an attempt at this time. Instead, let me simply say that this book impacted me deeply and caused me to adopt the ridiculous belief that life is worth living. Art can do that at times. In a sense, this book saved my life. No shit.

Caramelo by Sandra Cisneros

I haven’t read the Mango Street book currently flooding every elementary classroom, but I’d like to. I opted to first devour this tome. And devour I did. I loved this book, so much so that I felt the need to contact Ms. Cisneros and tell her so. I did so via the old fashioned fan letter. Sandra, I know you got the missive, I’m still waiting to hear back.

Okay, that’s it for now. More soon. Sorry.

Wednesday, December 22, 2004

Cohen mix-tape poetry

I know you need your sleep now,
I know your life’s been hard,
But many men have fallen
Where you promised to stand guard.
You told me again you preferred handsome men,
but for me you'd make an exception.
You cannot stand what I’ve become
you much prefer the gentleman I was before
I was so easy to defeat, I was so easy to control.
I didn’t even know there was a war.
Everything depends upon
how near you sleep to me.
Give me absolute control over every living soul
and lie beside me, baby, that’s an order.
Give me crack and anal sex,
take the only tree that’s left
and stuff it up the hole in your culture.
Give me back the Berlin wall
give me Stalin and St. Paul
I’ve seen the future, brother,
it is murder.
Give me back the Berlin wall
give me Stalin and St. Paul.
Give me Christ or give me Hiroshima.
And all the lousy little poets come around,
trying to sound like Charlie Manson.
Baby, let’s get married.
We’ve been alone too long.
Let’s be alone together.
Let’s see if we’re that strong.
Let’s do something crazy,
something absolutely wrong.

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

Random Music Post

This week I have been listening to some Leonard Cohen records. Mostly, New Skin for the Old Ceremony and the first 2 songs from The Future. It’s nice to hear how his voice changed over the years, like a couple of snapshots juxtaposed in a photo album. The same can be done with almost anyone whose career has spanned such a length of time (Dylan, Tom Waits to a certain extent).

Back in the days of 2141 N. Southport, Cohen was part of the regular soundtrack along with Dylan and Waits. All three seemed to share similar qualities, mainly untrained voices and poetic lyrics. A debate was staged between the members of the household as to who was the superior artist. I chose Waits, Mike picked Dylan and Rollo opted for Leonard Cohen. We agreed to disagree and tried not to let one of the three singers monopolize the stereo, although Dylan seemed to find the heaviest rotation (fuckin’ Mike Smith…).

So this week I have been thinking about Leonard Cohen’s work a bit more than usual. Maybe it has to do with the recent release of a new recording—which I hear is pretty mediocre. It stands to reason; his last few recordings were hit-or-miss efforts. The Future has two incredible songs and a lot of crap. But “Waiting for the Miracle” is good enough to justify picking it up (used if you can find it).

Giving New Skin a fresh listen, I remember first hearing “Is This What You Wanted” and thinking it was a great song. Now, I can barely stand it. The shift in tone from verse to chorus used to impress me but for some reason it has become tiresome. On the other hand, “Chelsea Hotel” used to bore me but I now find it to be a wonderful little gem. “Field Commander Cohen” is still the standout track and “There is a War” remains brilliant. “Who By Fire” sends chills through these here bones.

Hell, I might go grab Songs of Leonard Cohen. Why not? What else do I have to do? I wouldn’t mind hearing, “That’s No Way To Say Goodbye” right about now. It’ll surely beat “Jingle Bells” and that god-awful Paul McCartney Xmas song.


Yesterday saw me spinning The Crazy World of Arthur Brown and the classic radio hit, “Fire”. It’s been some time since I heard this and I mostly associate it with childhood memories of screaming aunts and dancing uncles. And my brother laughing at the frightening declaration, “I AM THE GOD OF HELLFIRE AND I BRING YOU… FIRE!” And the eerie chromatic organ. The rest of the CD is equally screwy. Psychedelic and goofy but I am loving it. An odd little record, right up my alley. Thanks to my stepmother for the Xmas gift, and for the Mrs. Dalloway Reader. Bonus thanks for the memoir, Another Bullshit Night in Suck City, which may be the best titled Xmas gift I will get this year.

The old man came through with The Cramps and their classic, A Date With Elvis, which has been in heavy rotation as well. Nothing like driving around Chicago, doing the last minute shopping and singing along with “Can Your Pussy Do the Dog?” I love finding the perfect music to play around the holidays. Last year’s Xmas soundtrack was Reign in Blood by Slayer. This year it’ll be The Cramps and Bad Boy Butch Batson. Merry fucking Xmas.


Oh, but there are so many other CDs I wish to own. I think all the Xmas gift music has hit these shores, so I’ll have to plop down my own cash and secure some tunes. A brief list of what I want, in case a long lost friend or relative is reading this (ha) and feeling generous:

Colossus of Destiny – Melvins
Thank You For Giving Me Your Valuable Time – Kaada
Black Earth – Bohren & Der Club of Gore
Sounds of Disaster – End
Inner Scratch Demons – Eddie Def
Great Phone Calls – Neil Hamburger
Magik – John Zorn
Eucademix – Yuka Honda
Hemophiliac: 50th Birthday Celebration Volume 6 – Hemophiliac
Nani Nani 2- Zorn/Eye
Baila! Gitano Baila! – Roberto Juan Rodriguez
People – Mike Pathos
Tonic – Rovo
Steady Diet of Nothing – Fugazi
Songs in the Key of Z – Various Artists
Complete Recordings – Minor Threat
Never Breathe What You Can’t See – Jello Biafra and the Melvins
Endangered Species – eX Girl
As Statues Fell – Fear of God
Cop – Swans
Seasons in the Abyss – Slayer
Point Blank – Nailbomb
40 More Reason to Hate Us – A.C.
Adult Themes for Voice – Mike Patton
All Men Are Pigs – Fe-Mail
Absolutely Free – Mothers of Invention
Prick – Melvins
Litanies of Satan – Diamanda Galás
Merzbeat – Merzbow

Monday, December 20, 2004

Human Belches Wake Us and We Drown

What is it about belching? As a child, I used to get reprimanded for letting out a burp in public, or at home for that matter. Even though I knew that saying, “Excuse me” would go a long way toward forgiveness, it was still drilled into me that one did not willingly belch loud enough for all in close proximity to hear.

This weekend at the early Xmas celebration, I heard my father, my brother and my cousin’s boyfriend—obviously comfortable in our company—let go with champion belches, loud enough to shake the foundations of my aunt’s suburban home. Each time I fired a look in their direction and made a few choice comments (“That was well brought up. Why weren’t you?”), but no one seemed bothered. I don’t really care. I’m not overly sensitive. God knows I am capable of slovenly behavior from time to time. But jeesh…

At work this morning, walking outside my boss’ door, I heard yet another loud, proud and roaring belch. I looked over at him, stripped down into his undershirt, hair thin and pant legs rolled like in The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock, minus the beach.

“That was pleasant, thanks,” I said.

“Hey man, I got a problem.”

I didn’t ask him to elaborate.

The years go by and I grow old, (trousers rolled… human voices wake us… do I dare to eat a peach?… all that) and as I do I notice my manners improving. Or my sensibilities becoming more delicate. Or my tolerance for humanity diminishing. I have measured out my life in coffee spoons full of black hatred. Perhaps I should try black tar?

Chasing the dragon, I remain,

Grumpy old V. Robert Prufrock

Thursday, December 16, 2004

No TV makes Vince something something

I got rid of my TV back in August. I did this for numerous reasons, too many to name. Okay, a few: My Uncle needed a TV and I let him have mine. I didn’t feel like moving it. I decided I needed a new one anyway and haven’t gotten around to hitting Best Buy. I have a library of about 2000 books and have only read a fraction of them. And I am in school and working full time, so there is no reason to be sitting on the couch watching Paris and Nicole act like spoiled bitches. It feels like a healthy move. I can prove that life can continue without seeing the same Simpsons and Seinfeld reruns I have already committed to memory. I will most likely get another TV soon enough, but for the time being I should just sit back, read and enjoy my quiet. Oh, and there’s the added bonus of telling people, “I don’t have a television” and acting like a real asshole.

But something is bothering me. I really want to watch The Cook, the Thief, His Wife and Her Lover right now. More than any other DVD in my collection, I really want to see this one. As of this moment it is my favorite film. Why not? It used to be Taxi Driver, then 8 1/2, then Miller’s Crossing. I used to tell everyone my favorite film was Time Bandits. Or Dawn of the Dead. Or Big Trouble in Little China. Or Once Upon a Time in America. I miss them all, but for fuck’s sake, I really want to see Helen Mirren cheat on her fat, boorish husband in the kitchen of that restaurant. I want to see Tim Roth kill a man with books. I want to see what a fully cooked human being looks like. Is any of this too much to ask?

I went looking for a new laptop recently—a Powerbook to be more precise—and the main feature of interest was their ability to play DVDs. So I’ll replace one flickering screen with another; it’s like getting off heroin and becoming addicted to methadone. And I’ve found myself buying CDs more and more. That before mentioned silence will soon be drowned out by all manner of recorded noise. If the absence of TV is going to leave a hole in my life, at least I can fill it with something worthwhile, i.e., literature and music. And liquor.

My biggest fear: I will be so starved for visual entertainment that I will find myself in line, money in hand, ready and willing to see the new Bridget Jones movie or that Christmas with the Kranks shit. Pray for me.

Sunday, December 12, 2004

Bad Boy Gotten: Mission Terminated

Goddamn, it feels good. After 11 years of searching the internet, the phone book and even the stars, I have found the impossible to find music of Earl “Bad Boy Butch” Batson. The Bad One made his music in his home, with a simple cassette recorder, an out-of-tune guitar missing strings and a voice like… I have no way to describe it. Words fail. He is perhaps Satan’s redneck minion of song. That’ll have to do.

Anyone who has heard the Bad Boy knows and anyone who knows me is tired of hearing about him. Well, I will shut the fuck about it because I have now the CD, sent with love from South Carolina by a man I don’t even know. We met each other via someone I met on Xtop’s which has a longer piece on my search for Bad Boy. I will never speak ill of technology again.

I have devoted a large chunk of my weekend to driving around Chicago and listening to the Bad Boy. It sounds horrendous. It sounds beautiful.

Now: I feel a sense of purposelessness. What do I do now? What shall be my new obsession? I need a Holy Grail. Any suggestions?

Thank you for your time.

Thursday, December 09, 2004

I love Chicago yet again

Standing outside the office on LaSalle, a homeless woman walks past. I recognize her as the very bizarre lady who flashed me her breasts years ago on the Ravenswood train. I have always said that all women are beautiful, but at that moment my opinion was challenged.

She walks by, turns and walks by again. Finally she approaches.

“Why are you following me?” she asks, a voice like sandpaper.

“I’m not.”

“You wanna fuck me?”


“You hot for me?”


She leaves.

I go back up to the office feeling strangely flattered.

Long Live The New Flesh

This is a shout out to my main man, my brother from another mother, Mr. Xtop, hero among heroes, prince among crude belching men. For a million and a half reasons he is the single greatest, but today it is because of his amazing generosity and internet resources. Last night, a package awaited me at my door. Inside were two burned CDs. Xtop has already burned me countless discs, very recently the impossible to find Boredoms Super Roots series. This time it was Jesu, the Heart Ache EP and the not yet released full-length record. Jesu, for those who don’t know, is Justin Broadrick’s new band, picking up where Godflesh left off and stomping the shit out of their last CD, Hyms. Godflesh is dead. Long live Jesu.

Seriously, I love this shit. Dirge music. Heavy. Grinding. Moving like slowly melting glaciers across the dark water. Beautiful stuff. Aside from the usual bulldozer assault of guitar and a wall of fuzzed bass is some lighter, more ambient moments, much like the remix material from Messiah or Love and Hate in Dub, only minus the club beats. This time around it is ethereal, using acoustic guitars, keyboards and a chorus to create a wall of sadness and beauty. Like My Bloody Valentine or Swans, but, you know, different. No breakbeats, no techno playing around, this is somber, brooding music for emo kids who might finally have grown up. This is a great soundtrack for weeks of rain. Perfect for the coming holidays. I haven’t been this happy since Streetcleaner.

Good bless you, Mr. Xtop.

Slight Return

Once upon a time I wanted to be a teacher. That all ended when I went to DePaul University. And it has begun again at Roosevelt.

Nestled in the bosom of Lincoln Park, DePaul was a bright and shinning light calling me from a haze of suburban fog. I hated the suburbs. I wanted out and the best way seemed to be by continuing my education. So I applied, got in and played the game. It didn’t take long before I fell off course and far away from that relatively simple goal, becoming a teacher.

I blamed Kurt Vonnegut. He wrote a wonderful introduction to Anne Sexton’s more wonderful adaptation of the Grimm Brother’s tales, Transformations. He wrote that he would not try and explain the poems, as he gave up trying to do so when he stopped teaching. He felt it was criminal to try and explain works of art. Vonnegut also wrote about trying to lecture on Joyce’s Dubliners and not being able to say a word. He just stood in front of the students, completely silent. This impacted me so much I decided to give up trying to become a teacher. Back then I didn’t realize that writers exaggerate or just plain make things up. Anything is fair game, no matter how untrue, so long as the result is a good story. Remember that as you read anything here. Ahem.

I jettisoned school in favor of sloth. It was fun for a while, but eventually one has to grow the fuck up. After many years of playing adult, which has mainly involved working for lawyers, I am backtracking. I have returned to the old goal. I registered for the basic skills test, signed up for another semester of literature classes and reconfirmed my commitment to become a teacher. It feels like returning to an old lover or picking up smoking again—normally two very bad things to do. But this feels good. Terrifying, but good.

Anything has to be better than working for lawyers.

Wednesday, December 08, 2004

Truth and Illusion

I hate blogs sometimes, especially when I stumble on one and it depresses me. Yet I can’t turn away. I read them the way morning commuters read the daily news. This is my confession.

As of late, I have been reading the bullshit confessions on even though I am well aware that a lot of it is, indeed, bullshit. Nonetheless, bullshit can be very entertaining. We need a little illusion in our lives, so long as we remain aware of the difference between the manufactured and the truth. Recalling, and paraphrasing, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf: Truth and Illusion, do we really know the difference? No, but we must act as though we do. Amen.

So I kill time by perusing the somewhat disgusting posts of fetishists and lying sons-of-bitches everywhere. What fun. Smith told me the other day about how he is registered on and I had to ask over and over, “But what’s the point?” Apparently most of the people I know on that site have few friendsters, all of whom are people that they have known for some time off line. I asked if it was basically an extension of e-mail, which I gather it is. Unless, of course, you are one of those tech savvy types who meets a lot of people on-line.

I suppose I am still rather amused at how the internet is used, at least the social aspect of it. I refer anyone who gives a rat’s ass to Xtop’s beautiful website, so they might search the archives and find my stint as guest blogger, at which time I wrote a half-assed piece about technology. It got lifted and reposted here: but I never got a royalty check.

I got into work this morning early and decided to use the internet for something more practical. I registered for the damn basic skills test I will have to take to become a teacher. The next domino is about to fall. In counteraction, I began to write this rambling post. The practical balanced with the frivolous. I also found a couple of interesting articles about how the Japanese celebrate Xmas eve, which is apparently the biggest dating night in the country—as big as our Valentine’s Day. And Kentucky Fried Chicken sees record sales on that night as well. Go here and here if this seems interesting.

I used to view the net as a source of disinformation flooded with smut and egomania. I suppose I still do only now I have learned to love it, depressing blogs not withstanding. As distraction, it reigns supreme. As entertainment, it buries its rivals. No amount of meticulously crafted courtroom dramas or soft-core reality TV can compete with personal blogs, confessional web sites and cute digital movies. Everyone has a voice, regardless of how inane (mine included).

Speaking of the internet, I really loved Winterson’s The Powerbook not just for the usual brand of fantastic writing but also because it used the web as an arena for much of the story. It made me think, as some of her books have, of Calvino. I have little doubt that he would have incorporated the web in his fabulist writings. Borges would have loved the internet for its labyrinthine aspect at least. As I have mentioned before, I love Winterson’s web site. So if my literary heroes can get behind this technology, why shouldn’t I?
I guess I am easing into the 21st century like an old man into a warm bath of Epsom salts. Slowly, crawling on my hands and knees, I shall come to embrace that which I once despised. Hast thou found me, mine enemy?

Monday, December 06, 2004

Home For the Hellidays

My brother already posted his thoughts about the holidays at so I will have to abort the post I was writing. Trust me, it was negative. Anyway, I’d hate to ride his coattails and I am sure the people who come here also go there and one anti-Xmas diatribe is enough. Having been spared his brand of retail, I really cannot appreciate the depths to which humanity can sink the way a 7-year veteran of K-Mart can. Instead, I will share my favorite Xmas retail story, pulled from the forever in progress chronicles of my former place of employ, the Aspidistra Bookshop.

Aspidistra was a grand place. I loved it long before I ever worked there. It offered the best selection and lowest prices of used books in the city of Chicago. Well, Bookman’s Corner (AKA Chandler’s) did and does offer the same, but their precariously stocked shelves (more times than not with contents spilling to the floor) and cramped aisles make book hunting into an extreme sport. We were messy at Aspidistra but we at least made some effort toward organization.

No one believed that I had to work on Xmas eve. My family thought I was once again opting out of holiday celebration in favor of sitting in my apartment chain-smoking and drinking scotch. No one else wanted to work Xmas eve—or Thanksgiving or Easter or any of the other holidays. My boss didn’t want to work those days but he simply never wanted to work. Everyone else had family out of town and big plans. I decided to be a team player.

My efforts did not go unnoticed. At the end of a long, miserable day of serving the public, I was free at last. Ron, the boss man, descended from his nearby perch and helped me close up.

“You going to see your family?” he asked.

“I don’t know… I suppose it’s not too late to catch the train. What are you doing?”

“Tonight or in general?”


“I’d prefer to answer the in general question.”



A quick trip to the bathroom and then I cut the lights. I could see evidence of the rats, their teeth marks all over the crumbling union of wall and floor. The giant heating unit rested above my head like the sword of Damocles, supported only by some plywood and water soaked telephone books.

Ron was much older than I, living alone at the time, drinking too much and trying to figure out every little thing that made no sense. Except humanity, which he had ceased trying to understand long before that time. I could see myself turning into him. A big beer gut, unshaven, over read and under paid, burning bridges and becoming estranged from wives and children. At the time it seemed like a fine and proper road to travel. So long as there were books to be read, I would have a purpose. Who needed people?

I got ready to lock up and Ron motioned me toward him.

“Here,” he said, slipping an envelope my way.



And we were out. Practicing my best etiquette, I didn’t open the envelope until after he was gone. It contained one hundred dollars cash. As I stood on Clark Street fumbling for a match, I ran into Ron’s son and the “vice president” of the store, Colin. I mentioned the envelope.

“Well, Vincent, congratulations. I think you’re the first person to ever get a bonus from the old man.”

God bless that curmudgeon, I thought. His simple, unadorned gesture made me feel an actual flood of Xmas cheer travel through my veins and into my black heart. I caught the bus and rode it to Union Station, phoning my mother when I got there to tell her I would be home soon.