Episode 17: I Hate This Place

Black Comedy

By Michael G. Glab

© 2013

— Seventeen —

[Sometimes home is a prison. The rehearsal dinner is tonight. The wedding is tomorrow. Somebody forgot to tell a cracker drifter pointing a rifle through the window of a flophouse across the street from the Lorraine Motel in Memphis that this would be Anna Dudek’s wedding weekend. Here’s the latest episode of the serial e-novel, “Black Comedy.” Read on.]

Anna thinks: I hate this place.

If she had all the freedom in the world, she’d get out now — this second. She’d move to Old Town or Evanston or even Hyde Park in a heartbeat. She’d move to where the young people are, the thinkers and readers and philosophers, people who don’t care one iota about Buicks and Cadillacs. She’d move into a kicky little studio, say, filled with books and candles and posters and incense burners. She’d wear miniskirts and granny glasses. She’d hang out with interesting people: musicians and people who want to Change The World, gentle, peaceful people, caring people, people who go to fondue restaurants and subterranean jazz clubs like The Bulls on Lincoln Avenue or folk hangouts like the Earl of Old Town. She’d want to see new faces, different faces, fascinating faces — not the same old faces of Galewood: all those grim, suspicious, dull, bigoted, fat, bitter faces. She’s had her fill of greasers and Doopers, of precinct captains and bee-hived, bouffanted housewives, of syndicate wise guys and hypocrite priests and punks wearing gold Italian horns around their necks. She’d want to see people from somewhere — anywhere — other than this stupid, stinking hellhole. People from the East Coast and the West Coast. People from Canada and even England. Puerto Ricans. Negroes.

Photo by Clay Eels

Pete Seeger, Harry Chapin & Steve Goodman At The Earl Of Old Town

But Anna is five months pregnant. She doesn’t have all the freedom in the world. In fact, she has none of the freedom in the world.

It’s late Friday night. The rehearsal dinner broke up about eleven. Pa had his two scotch and sodas, naturally. Ma even had half a whiskey sour. Tree Dudek’s presence at the rehearsal dinner in no way implies that she endorses this whole marriage sham with that goddamned Anthony Pontone. She has merely decided to go along with the charade for appearance’s sake. Joey spent most of his night sneaking gulps from Chianti bottles at the various tables populated by Anthony’s ushers and Anna’s bridesmaids and their girlfriends and boyfriends, uncles Frankie and Louie and their wives, and Fr. Jerome. By ten o’clock, Joey was slurring his words and dropping water glasses and flatwear. At ten-fifteen, ashen and sweaty, looking like a guy who’d just swallowed an earthworm, he suddenly rose out of his seat and sprinted toward the men’s room, his hand over his mouth. He didn’t make it.

The resultant reek of pink vomit caused the party to break up early. Not that anybody was in a mood to revel into the early hours anyway, considering what was happening on the West Side. Mayor Daley already had declared a citywide sundown curfew for those under 21, a group including all the ushers and bridesmaids and their girlfriends and boyfriends. Al passed out get-out-of-jail-free cards signed by none other than Mickey Finnin to each of them. He warned them not not be smart-asses to any cops who stopped them or they’d have to answer to him personally.

From Monopoly

Valid Only When Signed By Someone With Clout

Plus, Al had some business to attend to back home so he was in a hurry to leave.

When they get back to Natchez Avenue, Tree collapses in bed complaining of a monumental headache brought on by drinking too much (The ride home featured Tree moaning and holding her hand to her forehead, Joey snoring in the corner of the back seat, stinking of Chianti and vomit, and Anna raising her eyes toward heaven and muttering mantra-like, I hate this place, I hate this place.)

At home, Al hustles about, arranging the patio table and chairs. “Doan bother us out on the porch,” he warns Anna and Joey. “I got some people comin’ over. It’s important.” Then he turns to Joey and says, “You’re a goddamn mess. Go change your shirt and wash your face and go sleep it off. Cabeesh?”

Anna seethes as she sits in her bedroom cradling her pink Princess phone. She wants to dial Janine but the conversation taking place on the other side of the wall, on the back porch where Al has set up the patio table and chairs, is riveting. Al, Galewood’s most successful semi-legitimate businessman, Mickey Finnin, the 36th Ward Democratic committeeman, Eddie Halloran, the Cook County State’s Attorney, Alderman Rocco Bianco, and Tony the Fist Pontone — they’re all here and each is expressing himself hotly over the events on the West Side. Unless Mayor Daley is sitting on his patio with Police Superintendent Conlisk, Governor Shapiro, and LBJ’s Attorney General Ramsey Clark, there isn’t a more powerful meeting of men in the city right now.

Anna’s window is ajar — it would be opened wide on this unseasonably sultry night only she doesn’t want to gag from the smell of smoke from the fires on Madison and Roosevelt. The men on the back porch are puffing away on pricey cigars and long, slim cigarettes, their own smoke a protective cloud around them, warding off the stink of the West Side ghetto going up in flames not terribly far away.

“D’is is gettin’ outta hand,” Tony the Fist says.

“I don’t mean to be disrespectful,” Mickey says to him, “but isn’t there nothin’ you can do? Can’t you get word to your people down there to put a lid on this?”

“We ain’t got no people down there,” Tony the Fist says.

“C’mon, now. I can’t believe that,” Mickey says.

“Believe it. D’is new generation of coloreds, they ain’t the same as our old friends from the policy wheel days. Them guys were nice, respectful businessmen. They worked good with Lawson and Jefferson.” He turns to Al to explain: “D’em was our men in City Hall and Congress.” (It’s important to note he mentions Alderman Marvin Lawson first, since he is, as a member of Chicago’s City Council, far more powerful than the mere U.S. Congressman Henry Jefferson.) Now he turns back to Mickey Finnin and continues: “If this would a’happened five, ten years ago, we’d’a sent word down there and — boom — everything would’a been under control. No more. Uh uh. They got these Black Panthers and all these radicals and Mau Maus and I don’t know what the hell all else. They don’t listen to nobody. They’re pozzo*, I’m tellin’ ya.”

From Life Magazine

Running A Policy Game At A Polling Place

“Jesus Christ,” Mickey says.

“D’at’s right,” Tony the Fist replies. “We’re gonna need Jesus H. Christ himself if we’re gonna put a lid on this.”

“D’at’s right,” Alderman Bianco agrees, for that is what he does best.

Eddie Halloran is silent for the moment. He’s got his usual Friday night load on and he’s nodding off already.

“I just got a question,” Mickey Finnin says. “Why can’t you send some a your guys down there, y’know what I mean? Maybe if some a these tootsoons* got their kneecaps broken they’d think twice about all this lootin’ and throwin’ Molotov cocktails.”

Tony the Fist throws his head back and roars. Mickey looks at Al and Rocco BIanco. They shrug. “I’m glad I can entertain you,” Mickey says, smiling mirthlessly.

“Naw, naw. Doan take it personal,” Tony the Fist says. “Nobody’s breakin’ nobody’s kneecaps nowhere. Lemme tell you somethin’. Daley’s got the entire police force on 24-hour alert. Ten thousand friggin’ blues down there. Shapiro just sent in five thousand National Guard. LBJ’s thinkin’ of sendin’ in the Army. What’s that — fifteen, twenty thousand guys? Buona fortuna*. I doan give a shit whatchyer readin’ in Royko, I ain’t got guys that’ll go into d’at jungle and deal wit’ d’em animali*.”

“It’s that bad?” Al asks.

“It’s d’at bad,” Tony the Fist says.

“D’at’s right,” Rocco Bianco says.

Mickey takes a deep drag off his cigar then points it at each of his colleagues. “We shoulda never gave ‘em those civil rights and all that other shit they were screamin’ about. Things were good just the way they were. I’m a Democrat all my life. I ain’t never gonna vote for them country club Republicans, right? But LBJ was wrong, dead wrong, givin’ ‘em those civil rights. JFK, too, God rest his soul.” Mickey crosses himself and continues. “They give ‘em what they want and what do they do? They burn everything down. Am I right?”

“D’at’s right,” Rocco Bianco says.

“Damn right I’m right,” Mickey says. Al and Tony the Fist nod emphatically.

Now the four men sit in silence and shake their heads at the stupidity of it all.

Eddie Halloran emits an abrupt snort, causing the other four men to jump. “Jesus Christ!” Al says as he and the others laugh nervously. He turns serious: “What about us?” he asks. “We gonna be okay over here?”

Tony the Fist blows out a puff of cigar smoke. “Doan worry about it,” he says. “You could go up and down these streets all afternoon, you’da seen half to t’ree quarters a’your neighbors out on their front porch, armed to the teet’. I mean it, d’ey want these coloreds to come over here. It’s like the wild, wild west out here. We got posses on every block.”

“Wahoo,” Mickey Finnin says. The four share a titter over that one.

“D’at’s right,” Rocco Bianco says.

“Yeah,” Mickey says. “The Mayor ain’t gonna let ‘em get past Pulaski. Hell, he’ll get LBJ to throw the atom bomb at ‘em, they start comin’ this way.”

“I dunno about all these guns,” Al says, initiating another silence. Nobody’s thought about the repercussions of hundreds of hotheads sitting on their front porches ready to fire pistols, rifles, and shotguns at the first flash of black skin.

“C’mon now, Al,” Mickey says. “These are good people. They’re not… whaddya call it…, what was that you said, Tony? Ahnny Mahlly?”

Animali,” Tony the Fist corrects him. “The beasts of the jungle.”

“That’s what I said. Ahnny Mahlly. You Dagos are poets, y’know that?” Mickey says. “We Irish, we sing the songs and we love the drink. You Dago boys draw them pictures like that Duh Vinsy and you write them words like that Donnie guy.”

“Donnie?” Tony the Fist says.

“Yeah, you know ‘im! He’s one a’yours, fer chrissakes. Donnie.”

Tony the Fist turns to Rocco Bianco, the only college graduate of the foursome. DePaul Law, 1948. “What’s he talkin’ about, Rocco?”

“I think he means Dante.”

“Dante! Gee Zuss Kee-riest, Mickey!”

The four chuckle, then turn silent. They can still hear sirens in the distance. A gust blows up from the south, bringing with it another blast of smoke.

“Animals,” Al says.

Animali,” Tony the Fist says.

Ahnny Mahlly,” Mickey says.

“D’at’s right,” Rocco Bianco says.

Eddie Halloran snores.

“I’ll tell you this,” Tony the Fist concludes. “We ain’t gonna let no crazy niggers ruin everything we built up in this city.”

“No sir,” Al says.

“No way. No how,” Mickey says.

“D’at’s right,” Rocco Bianco says.

There’s a final 30-second silence before Tony the Fist speaks again. “Doan laugh,” he says, ‘but we can turn all d’is shit to our advantage.”

“What’s on your mind?” Mickey asks, leaning in toward him.

“This,” Tony the Fist says. “I got contacts downtown in the real estate rackets. You know some a’these people from the papers so I ain’t gonna mention no names. But these are heavy hitters, believe me. They tell me I gotta grab up as much a’this land that’s opening up as fast as I can.”

“Whaddya mean?” Mickey says.

“All these buildings they’re burnin’ down, all these two-, t’ree-, and four-flats? It’s gonna be a desert out there from Roosevelt Road up to Lake Street, right? That land ain’t worth a shit right now. You can get it for pennies on the dollar. You make your investment right now, wait ten, twenty years, all of sudden that land’s worth somethin’.”

“Is that what the big boys are gonna do?” Mickey asks.

“Not ‘gonna,’” Jackey says. “D’ey been doin’ it for a few years now. I know one guy that owns half the land around the Stadium.”

The Chicago Stadium

The Chicago Stadium

“There’s nothin’ there,” Mickey says.

“D’at’s right,” Tony the Fist says. “D’at’s why you buy now.”

Tony the Fist’s three listeners sit back in their patio chairs and stare into the smokey dark sky, contemplating.

Tony the Fist interrupts their reveries. “Am I right? Am I right? Now, let’s get crackin’ on d’is. We get together and grab some a d’is land ourselves. I’ll work with the big boys downtown to set it up. Whaddya say?”

Al, Mickey, and Rocco Bianco all nod. Eddie Halloran has nodded off for the night.

“Good,” Tony the Fist says. “Who’d’a thought it? D’is Luther King gettin’ killed might be the best thing that ever happened.”

Rocco Bianco puts his signature punctuation on the proceedings: “D’at’s right,” he says.

In her room, Anna places her Princess phone back in its cradle. She thinks, I hate this place.

* A Helpful Glossary

  • Pozzo: Pronounced POT-so, Italian for “crazy.”
  • Tutsoon: Pronounced toot-SOON, a racial epithet of murky origin, chiefly used by Italians in Chicago.

  • Buona Fortuna: Italian for “good luck,” usually used to imply impossibility.

  • Animali: Pronounced AH-nee-MAH-lee, Italian for “animals” or “beasts.”

To be continued

Preparations for the big wedding go on as the city burns. Join us Monday for Episode 17 of “Black Comedy” on The Electron Pencil.

This is a work of fiction. All fictional characters, descriptions, and situations herein are the property of the author.

One thought on “Episode 17: I Hate This Place

  1. dave paglis, illiterate, racist homophobe and now, dumpster diver says:

    Mike: another good one. I especially like the Italian. I’m coming down this weekend; I’ll pick up Winner Take All Politics and the book corner. Maybe I’ll see you.

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