By Michael G. Glab
— Forty-six —
[Let’s get back to the story, shall we?
The serial e-novel, “Black Comedy,” has been following the Dudek family from Chicago’s Northwest Side in the late 1960s and early ’70s. You know the score if you’ve been reading faithfully — if you haven’t, what the hell’s the matter with you?
Natchez Avenue in Galewood is the backbone of Chicago, an iron triangle of politics, business, and organized crime.
Anna Pontone (nee Dudek) now has two kids. Her husband, Anthony Pontone got himself scared right out of the gonzo, underground journalism racket by officers of the law who’d stop at nothing — not even assassination — to halt all the protesters, radicals and revolutionaries from taking over their sweet land. Her dad, Al Dudek, finds himself tied in deeper and deeper with the Outfit and City Hall. Jimmie “The Jungle Man” Finnin andher brother, Joey Dudek, now are thick as thieves. Her mother, Tree Dudek, is still standing at her front window in the middle of the night, chain-smoking Pall Malls and staring at her semi-estranged daughter’s house across the street.
Her neighbor, Cook County State’s Attorney Eddie Halloran, bet everything on J. Edgar Hoover and lost — now his meteoric political career is fizzling out. Another nieghbor, assistant city corporation counsel Lenny LaFemina, is now a paraplegic, thanks to an ill-advised attempt to tackle an anti-war protester — and his political career is just beginning. Yet another neighbor, David Pergler, is searching for the magic story that’ll transform him into a local TV news star — he’ll find it soon, right on Natchez Avenue.
Her father-in-law, Tony The Fist Pontone, has put together a syndicate to buy up land in the riot-ravaged West Side ghetto, betting it’ll all be worth plenty one day. Neighbor Sal Sanfillipo, the cop, has a powerful new friend in City Hall — he found Alderman Rocco Bianco in a late night raid on a gay bar, now the alderman owes Sal big time.
Big changes are in store. That’s why you have to keep reading Black Comedy — welcome to Episode 46!]
Free at last! That’s how Anna feels. Well, a little bit free. At least in comparison to those days sitting on the living room sofa, pregnant, fat as a sow, alone, wondering when in the holy hell Anthony would ever come home. Oh, and broke.
She’s still broke. But Anthony’s home all the time now, bathing and feeding the babies, vacuuming and mopping, doing the dishes — Oh man, this is heaven! He quit his job as reporter for the underground newspaper, The Seed. That means the Pontones’ income now hovers in the low double digits a week — essentially the same as it had been when Anthony was out working. After all, the privilege of writing for a revolutionary newspaper that aimed to Change the World, Smash the State, Stop Racism, End Poverty and all the rest of the capitalized goals of the Young, the Committed, the Tuned-in, the Turned-on, and the Dropped-out, was worth a thousand — nay, ten thousand times more than any silly paycheck, which, by the way, came now and then — more then than now.
Anna, Anthony, and the boys (Chet and the newborn Freddie — named, of course, after Fred Hampton) are still living on the tens and twenties that Al Dudek passes to his daughter when he makes his after dark, back alley visits. He needn’t be so secretive anymore. Tree isn’t going to rip into him for seeing their daughter now. She’s warmed up ever so slightly — so very, very slightly — since Anna’s become a Mom. But Al’s got a bit of a sentimental streak in him. The clandestine nature of the visits, the cloak and dagger of it all, is a reminder that he’d do anything for his only daughter, even risk the ire of his vanadium-and-stainless-steel-spined Sicilian wife. It’s sort of exciting, like having an affair, only this secret tryst isn’t with another woman, God forbid. The bond between Al and Anna is special, something no one else on this good, green Earth can ever understand. Their hearts beat a little faster when the time comes for them to meet. It’s all so exciting and forbidden, the only excitement and taboo they’ll allow themselves — just yet — in their respective lives
Luxuriating in this new free time, Anna has taken up reading. And, no, she’s not slogging through the agit-prop that Anthony still tries to push upon her, oh God, those boring endless political theory tracts of Herbert Marcuse, all that Heidegger and all those ridiculously dry as dust position papers written by the Weathermen’s Education Secretary, Bill Ayres. And Ayres’ wife, the insufferable Bernardine Dohrn! Good God what does Anthony see in these humorless prigs?
Now and again, Anna slips one of Al’s tens into her back pocket, for use only by her. She deserves it, dammit. The boys are well fed and Anthony still doesn’t give a damn about food, the cetriolo*. The house, of course, is paid for and Anna makes sure the utility bills are always paid. Daddy, God bless him, takes care of the property tax bill and nothing — fingers crossed — has broken down just yet. So yeah, Anna thinks, I deserve a little spending money.
Once or twice a month, she takes an entire morning and afternoon for herself, riding the el downtown, having lunch at Moe’s Deli just north of the river on Wabash (ooh, that fatty pastrami is so evil and so good, and guess who supplies Moe with his cold cuts — yep, Big Al’s Meats. Daddy. And that crisp dill pickle, oh my God.) Anna doesn’t drive because that damned old Plymouth Anthony bought a couple of years ago is, if you can believe it, in even worse condition now than when he first drove it home, chugging, clanking, and belching smoke. Besides, she doesn’t know how to work a stick and has no desire to learn. The el is just fine, thank you.
After lunch at Moe’s, Anna crosses the river and heads toward Kroch’s & Brentano’s bookstore on Wabash. Occasionally she walks east to Michigan Avenue and stops in at Stuart Brent’s bookstore. The smell of new books is intoxicating. It’s safe and homey, kind of a gray fall day smell. It gets Anna almost as high as pot, something she has refrained from indulging in since she became a Mom.
She has amassed her own little library at home. The first book she bought for herself was Love Story. She bought it in hardcover the day it was released, Valentine’s Day, 1970. What a splurge that was! Seven dollars and ninety-nine cents plus tax. Anna clasped it close to her breast on the el ride home. She read it from cover to cover in a day and a half then she read it all over again.
She read later in Kup’s Column that they were making a movie out of it with Ali MacGraw and Ryan O’Neal. Anna couldn’t wait for it to come out. But that was months ago. Her tastes have evolved since then.
Back then, Anna dreamed of a prince like Ryan O’Neal/Oliver Barrett IV to come into her life. A tall, blond intellectual jock whose daddy has millions but he’s willing to chuck it all for the girl he loves. And Anna who has taken to wearing her jet black hair just like Jenny Cavelerri did, long and straight and parted on the side, so kicky and so hip. And Jenny, just like Anna, is Italian. Jenny, Anna allows herself to dream, could be me.
But then she looks over at Anthony, barefoot, the soles of his feet black, wearing holey gym pants and that T-shirt that says “Jesus Is A Far Out Dude.” He’s leaning against the kitchen sink, rinsing out the glass milk gallons so he can take them back to Dominick’s for the refund. The man she once thought of as so cute, so charming, so sexy, is now a slob. She thinks, Even if Anthony does stay home now, it wouldn’t hurt for him to roll on some deodorant occasionally.
It is nice to see him play with the babies and feed them Gerber’s pureed carrots — their faces invariably becoming orange from forehead to chin — but when he plops into the beanbag chair and puts that Chicago Transit Authority album on the record player — I swear to God, she thinks, — if I hear that stupid 25 or 6 to 4 one more time I’m gonna scream! — and she sees his pitch black soles and the hole in his gym pants that expose his wrinkly ball sack, and he pops open a can of Hamm’s, slugs down a gulp and then emits a gaseous rumble from down somewhere near his filthy toes, Anna almost wishes he were back on the revolution beat.
And then…, and then…, get this: Anthony starts fidgeting with the crucifix he’s taken to wearing around his neck now. Yeah. Jeez. I mean, really. He started getting into this Jesus thing not long after the Fred Hampton thing. One day at dinner he said, out of the blue, “You know, Jesus was the first hippie.”
Anna didn’t pay much attention to it at first. Whatever your bag is, Anna thought, rolling her eyes. But it’s clear this is no fad. Anthony’s a Jesus freak now.
So, no, the man she’s married to is neither Oliver Barrett IV or Ryan O’Neal. He’s not even the cute guy he was back in the fall of 1967 when she met him outside Bizarre Bazaar on Wells Street in Old Town.
Anna wonders, When was the last time we made love? Not that she has any intention of doing so now. At least not with him.
* A Helpful Glossary
- Cetriolo: Pronounced in the Sicilian dialect, CHIH-drool, literally a small cumber; mainly used as a mild insult to indicate a knucklehead.
To be continued
All fictional characters, descriptions, and situations are the property of the author.