Category Archives: Fiction

Hot Air

Caffeinated Philosophy

Overheard at Soma Coffee, one barista speaking to another:

Life is more than fish sticks.

Fish Sticks

So, so true.

Magic, Tragic Formula

As a student at the University of Chicago, Kurt Vonnegut wanted to let academe know that the plots for fictional stories can be represented as graphs. You know, the visual aids that we normally associate with economists, behavioral psychologists, and other illusionists.


Vonnegut In The Army

Huh. Who’da figured the likes of Truman Capote and James Patterson are, at heart, mathematicians?

Vonnegut pitched this concept for his master’s thesis at the august institution. He was told, forthwith, to kiss off. The late Indy native once explained the dons didn’t dig his brainstorm “because it was so simple and looked like too much fun.”

Anyway, Open Culture tells us about Vonnegut’s proposal, which he went on to espouse and further explain throughout his life. Plus, his own novel plots reflected the basic assertion he wanted to make in his thesis paper.

And, since we’re larcenous hoodlums here at Pencil World HQ, we’ve copped the chart that Open Culture commissioned designer Maya Eilam to draw up, illustrating V’s idée. Here it is [broken up so you can read the text]:


Eilam Infographic Detail


Eilam Infographic Detail


Eilam Infographic Detail

Vonnegut would have had us believe that the stories a culture tells about itself also can be plotted thusly. And in that we we can learn about said society. Cool, no?

Living Dolls

I’ve always thought the Sports Illustrated annual swimsuit edition is stupid. SI takes inhumanly glamorous dames and poses them in faraway and gorgeous locales, all the while cladding them in eensy-weensy bikinis that expose as much mam, camel-toe, and bootie as can be displayed on a Kroger magazine rack.

For the boys, right? If the giggly, sweaty lads of this holy land want porn, there’s plenty of it on the Internet. They don’t have to pretend they’re buying this particular issue of the weekly sports news pub just for the articles.

Plus, there’s the whole creation of impossible standards of beauty for young girls to fail to live up to and young boys to be sorely disappointed in their future girlfriends and wives for. All in all, the swimsuit edition is nutty.

Now it’s deranged. Guess who is adorning the pages of the 2014 one-handed reading edition?


The doll.


Yes, This Barbie®

A hunk of plastic that, too, has been making girls feel like crap about their bods for 50 years.

Boys, it’s time to grow up.

But even more weird than grown men turning Japanese over a sports mag are the rationalizations SI and Mattel are spewing left and right. For instance, some copywriter, who obviously downed an LSD-and-crystal-meth-laced latte before he started clacking his keyboard, authored the following words that supposedly came out of Barbie’s mouth:

I, for one, am honored to join the legendary swimsuit models. The word “model,” like the word “Barbie®,” is often dismissed as a poseable plaything with nothing to say. And yet, those featured are women who have broken barriers, established empires, built brands, branched out into careers as varied as authors, entrepreneurs and philanthropists. They are all great examples of confident and competent women.

Notice I said the copywriter was a he. Because it couldn’t have been a woman, could it? Can any female human being be that unhinged?

Episode 50: High Noon


By Michael G. Glab

© 2013

BC Archives Link 20130815

Fifty —

For a hot minute, Anna considers grabbing Tami by the arm and walking right back out of Doc Ryan’s. Then again, Anna has never liked being forced into doing anything — not even by a couple of dozen white men who are staring at her and her new Negro friend as if they’re lepers.

So Anna and Tami wade through the silence and claim the only open four-top in the place. As they hang their bags over the backs of their chairs and remove their winter coats, they hear the scraping of chairs against the Linoleum floor. Anna eyes turn to slits; the revelers and drinkers around them are moving away. Anna snorts. They’re trying to be subtle, these pot-bellied, pasty-faced old bastards, but the two or three extra inches they’re placing between themselves and the Negro who’s entered their sanctuary may as well be the distance from Galewood to Mau Mau land.

Tami grins broadly — too broadly, Anna thinks. “So, what should we have,” Tami asks.

“I dunno,” Anna says. “You okay here? You wanna try someplace else?”

“Girl, we just got here! What are you talkin’ about?”


“Sure I’m sure. Now what should we have?”

“Beer,” Anna says.

“Okay, beer,” Tami says.

So the two wait for the bartender to come by and take their order. They don’t know just yet that he has no intention of approaching their table. Emilio Irato stands behind his bar and rubs the same spot on it with his damp towel with such effort and for so long that a couple of guys on stools nudge each other. “I t’ink he’s gonna rub a hole in da wood,” one whispers to the other.

Emilio has owned Doc Ryan’s for almost a year now. He came upon it the old fashioned, Chicago way. He is a clerk in the City Collector’s Office. Doc Ryan’s is his neighborhood bar. He’s had his eye on the proprietor, Maggie Ryan, ever since her husband Doc keeled over dead of a heart attack in the summer of ’67. He’d stop in the place three, four times a week, sip his favorite sweet cocktail, and inquire after Maggie’s health and welfare even while she still wore black.

The first time he ordered his cocktail — a shot of Amaretto and a shot of Southern Comfort over ice with a splash of sour mix — Maggie asked him what he called it. “Aw, it don’t have no name,” he said. “I just like it.”

Between Christmas and New Year’s, 1969, Maggie came into the City Collector’s office for her 1970 liquor license. Emilio was manning the counter at the time. “Perfect,” he said to himself as he watched Maggie approach. He looked over her application and told her she’d have to come with him for lunch so they could talk over some irregularities in her paperwork. In the Mayor’s Row restaurant on LaSalle Street, where dozens of such business deals were consummated daily, Emilio put it to her straight. All she would have to do is sleep with him and all the application irregularities would disappear. Maggie stared at him, aghast.

Finally she said, “Uh, I don’t think so.” “Okay,” Emilio, a reasonable negotiator, countered. “D’en what about a blowjob, okay?”

Maggie had no intention of sleeping with or blowing Emilio Irato no matter what he threatened her with.

And threaten her, he did. “You ain’t gonna get no license, lady,” he warned her after deducing she was serious. Still she held out. And when January 1st, 1970, rolled around Maggie could not open her doors. There was nothing she could do about it until Emilio himself bailed her out. He’d borrowed money from Jackey Pontone and made her a fair offer for her business. What could she do but accept it? Emilio told himself he was a savvy businessman for getting his hands on Galewood’s best tavern.

On a Sunday mid-afternoon in December, 1970, a savvy businessman in Galewood doesn’t want any porch monkeys coming into his joint, even if they are with Al Dudek’s daughter. Emilio rubs the same spot on his bar harder and harder, staring at the the two women.

“So,” Tami says.

“So,” Anna says.

“That was an interesting meeting,” Tami says.

“No it wasn’t,” Anna says, laughing.

“No,” Tami says. “No it wasn’t.” She shares Anna’s laugh. Anna glances around the room. A good half of the clientele is still staring at the two of them. The remainder, she is certain, are trying their hardest to pretend she and Tami don’t exist.

AP Photo

Race Relations

“What I don’t get,” Anna says, “is how you could fall asleep. I thought you were taking notes on what Helga was saying.”

Tami covers her face. “Oh, I’m so embarrassed.”

“No, no. Don’t be embarrassed. Please. I told you; I fell asleep too.”

“You did, didn’t you!”


“Well, first off, her name was Hagar, not Helga.”

“Whatever,” Anna says, rolling her eyes.

“I can dig it,” Tami says. “Anyways, I wasn’t taking notes. I was writing up a grocery list.”

“A grocery list!”

“Yeah. I want to make lasagna tonight.”

“You do? Lemme see that list.”

Tami digs around in her bag and produces her notebook. Anna scans it. “Noodles? Tomato soup? Cottage cheese? This isn’t lasagna!”

“It isn’t? Well, what do you call it?”

“I don’t know what I’d call it but it won’t call it lasagna.”

“Okay, Miss Galloping Gourmet. You tell me how to make lasagna.”

“Ooh, The Galloping Gourmet. I love Graham Kerr. Listen, let’s make it together.”

“You’re on!”

“I’d make a toast but we don’t have any drinks yet,” Tami says.

Anna realizes Emilio Irato will not be waiting on them. She gets up and approaches the bar where Emilio only stares at her. “Hullo,” she says. Emilio says nothing. “Um, can I order a drink?” Emilio remains silent. She coughs. “So, uh, can I have two beers?”

Emilio continues to stare at her in murderous silence. Anna shifts from foot to foot. Two dozen Bears fans stare at her. Anna thinks: Go ahead. Kick us out. You’d be doing us a favor.

The high noon moments passes when Emilio finals budges. He reaches for a couple of mugs and begins to fill them from the tap. He tops off one, then the other, and slams them in turn on the bar. Anna begins to dig in her purse for her wallet. Emilio holds up his hand. He says: “Doan worry about it.”

Anna says, “You sure?”

Rather than answer, Emilio simply turns on his heel and walks to the other end of the bar. Anna grabs the two beers and brings them to her table.

“Thanks,” Tami says. “I got the next round.”

Anna glances back toward the bar. Emilio leans on it in the far corner, exhaling a lungful of cigarette smoke, eying the two of them through the swirls.

“I don’t think there’ll be another one,” she says.

To be continued

All fictional characters, descriptions, and situations are the property of the author.

Episode 49: I Like The Way You Think


By Michael G. Glab

© 2013

BC Archives Link 20130812

Forty-nine —

A young woman clears her throat and the dozen or so other women sitting in folding chairs in a circle with her fall silent. She smiles beatifically, looking right and left.

“Welcome, sisters,” she says. “My name is Hagar. It’s a slave name.”

Anna tries to check Tami’s reaction out of the corner of her eye. Nothing. Tami, the only black person in the room, is busy scribbling on a notepad on her knee. The young woman continues.

“Like our Afro-American sisters, I found it necessary to change my name. I chose not to be branded by the label put on me by the oppressive hierarchy. I was baptized Mary Pat,” she says. Two or three of the sisters in the circle titter.

“I decided that my life wouldn’t be pat.” More titters.

“I also decided I didn’t want my name to honor a woman whose only accomplishment in life was to be a virgin.” The titters spread.

Anna’s eyes widen. She’s right, Anna thinks, but she’d better be careful talking that way about the Mother of God.

The young woman goes on. “So I chose the name Hagar. It’s from the Old Testament. Hagar was Sarah’s slave. Sarah was barren so she gave Hagar to her husband Abraham so he could father a child. Can you believe it? She gave this woman to her husband.”

Anna thinks, Hmm, I did not know that. Naturally, she wouldn’t since Catholics long have been forbidden to read the Bible. Grandma Luisa told her that when Anna was a little girl. Every Catholic home must have a Bible in it, preferably on a table near the front door, Grandma instructed. But under no circumstances were they to open and read it. The Bible, the priests always warned, was filled with riddles and mysteries and arcane messages. It was far too easy to become confused by it. Look what happened when all those Lutherans started reading it!

The young woman expounds. “Hagar represents all the oppressed woman of the Bible.” She pauses for effect. “I apologize for being redundant,” she chuckles. “I think we can all agree the every woman in the Bible was oppressed.” She glances from left to right again. “Not much has changed in a few thousand years, I guess,” she says. Titters and nods.

Tami, though, continues to jot furiously in her notebook. Anna pretends to stretch her neck, as if to relieve a kink. In reality, she’s trying to see what Tami’s writing but the angle isn’t quite right.

Little does Anna know but the young woman’s tidbit on Hagar of the Book of Genesis is only the preamble to a lengthy lecture on the sad, sorry lot of women throughout history. Nine of the woman nod in agreement as the young woman drones on. Only the young woman herself, Tami, and Anna are not nodding. The young woman is busy droning. Tami is busy writing notes. And Anna is busy falling asleep.

Now and again, Anna snaps awake. Embarrassed, she looks around to see if anyone has noticed but fortunately the women are engrossed. All, that is, except Tami whose furious note-taking seems to be slowing down. The third time Anna snaps awake, she notices Tami’s pen has stopped moving.

Now Anna is dreaming. Hands caress her bare skin. A pair. Two pairs, then three. Soon she can’t even count the hands anymore. And, sure enough, some of those hands are dark-skinned. Anna has never felt so warm in public, so deliciously bad.

Anna feels is if she’s about to arch her back when — bang! — she’s awakened by a thunderclap, an explosion, the slap of the hand of Mary, the Mother of God, across her cheek.

Even Hagar jumps in her seat. Eleven pairs of eyes turn to the floor in front of Tami. Her notebook has fallen. Tami awakens with a snort. Anna covers her mouth to hide her smile.

Hagar quickly wraps up the final 30 years of female suffering. She asks, “Should we do this again next Sunday? Let’s see a show of hands.” Eleven hands go up.

As the women stand and put on their winter coats, Tami whispers to Anna. “I am so sorry,” she says.

Anna whispers back: “It’s okay, I fell asleep too.” The two giggle.

“I like you,” Tami says. “What are you doing right now? You wanna go sit somewhere and have a cup of coffee?”

Anna says, “I have a better idea. Let’s go sit somewhere and have a drink.”

“I like the way you think,” Tami says, grinning.

The two walk out in the December gray to Tami’s Volkswagen Beetle. “Sorry,” Tami says as she starts it up, “the heater doesn’t work. Where we goin’?”

“Let’s go up to North Avenue. We’ll go to Doc Ryan’s.”

“Point the way, lady,” Tami says.

Doc Ryan’s is fairly crowded for a Sunday afternoon. The Bears are on the black and white TV above the bar. They are playing the last game of the year, manhandling the woebegone New Orleans Saints. The Bears have scored a late touchdown making it 24-3. Anna and Tami can hear the crowd roar inside as they get out of the Beetle. A light snow is beginning to fall.

“Sounds like fun,” Tami says.

Anna says, “It’s not fun. It’s football.”

“I like football. I like Dick Gordon. He’s fine,” Tami says, drawing out the word.

“I don’t really dislike football,” Anna says, although she loathes it. “It’s exciting.”

“So is Dick Gordon,” Tami says.

“You’re bad.”

“Don’t I know it!”

The two enter Doc Ryan’s. The cheering, which had been dying down already, comes to a sudden halt. Several dozen white male heads turn toward them. The tinny blare of the television is the only sound in the place.

Anna thinks, Ooh, this is one big mistake.

To be continued

All fictional characters, descriptions, and situations are the property of the author.

Episode 48: Ring Around The Collar


By Michael G. Glab

© 2013

BC Logo Final 20130726

Forty-eight —

Anna’s seen the little flyer taped up on the post at the Oak Park Avenue stop the last two times she’s gone downtown on the el. “Sisters,” its headline blares, “There’s More To Life Than Ring Around The Collar.” She’s read it thoroughly each time she’s seen it.

CTA/Oak Park Avenue

Anna thinks of Ma, scraping her knuckles on the grater, creating mountains of Parmigiano every time she had an argument with Daddy, or Joey got into trouble at Holy Cross, or — Anna cringes to think of it now — every time the two of them had a spat, which was an everyday occurrence when Anna was a teenager. That’s how Tree Dudek handles stress — by grating cheese. Or doing housework.

Ma’s life has always been consumed with nothing more than grating cheese, slicing zucchini, vacuuming, window-washing, polishing silver, baking anisettes, smoking Pall Malls, amateur interior decorating, packing lunches for Al and Joey, whacking Joey on the side of the head two or three times a week, polishing Al’s dress shoes, ironing Joey’s school shirts, unclogging the kitchen drain, plunging the toilet, replacing the batteries in the transistor radio, changing the clock to daylight savings time, arranging and rearranging her three-by-five recipe cards, and all the other things that have to do with the smooth running of a Galewood home, all those things that…, that…, that are nothing!

That’s what Anna thinks her mother’s life is all about. Nothing at all. Not a thing.

It’s a rotten shame. It’s a crime. Ma is the hardest woman on the face of the Earth to get along with but, still, she’s a human being. A woman. And if these Galewood men had their way, a woman would be nothing more than a slave. And guess what! These Galewood men have their way!

Well, Anna thinks, I’m not gonna be anybody’s slave.

The flyer explains that there’s to be a meeting of sisters who wish to throw off the chains of bondage at the hippie record store, Nirvana, not far from the Oak Park Avenue el stop, Sunday afternoon at 2:00. Anthony gets his albums at Nirvana, even that damned Chicago Transit Authority that she’s sick of hearing, but Anna’s never been in the place. She’s only ever bought her 45s and LPs at Sears at North and Harlem because her friend Janine, who worked there, let her use her discount card. That is, until Janine was caught doing so and was promptly fired. But that was just a couple of months before Anna got married and, what with the all the chaos, she hadn’t any time time for records although she really would have liked to get Bookends by Simon and Garfunkel but, well, you know.

Album Cover

Anyway, Anna’s always thumbed her nose at Nirvana. She figured it was a cheap knock off of Bizarre Bazaar in Old Town, which even today remains one of her favorite places on Earth despite the fact, she must concede, it’s where she re-met Anthony. And, yeah, Bizarre Bazaar always had flyers and posters up that began, “Sisters…,” but she never really paid any attention to them because she’d never felt like anybody’s sister. Besides Joey, but, you know.

After two and a half years of sheer loneliness, even with Anthony now in the damned house every second of the day, Anna feels the need for sorority. And my husband, my own husband thinks I’m a ditz. The very first day I friggin’ met him he started in on me, telling me how stupid I was, Anna thinks.

I am not stupid. And I am not a slave.

Slave Trade

So Anna finds herself in the classical music section of Nirvana, normally the least populated area of the store on a Sunday afternoon — or any afternoon — waiting for this consciousness-raising meeting of sisters to begin. A dozen or so folding chairs are set up in a circle. There will be no lectern, no single place where a leader holds forth because in this new, sisterly world, there are no leaders. Leadership, you know, is so patriarchal.

Anna’s wearing her white Keds with Levi’s. She has on an old University of Illinois sweatshirt underneath her winter coat and scarf. She has laid her coat neatly over the back of her folding chair and dug into her shoulder bag for the book she read a couple of months ago, Love Story.

Love Story, of course, was one of the two bestselling books of the year 1970. That and The Godfather. The last thing in the world Anna wanted to read was some love poem to the animals that make up the Mafia, even if the animals in Mario Puzo’s book are New Yorkers and not the real mobsters she’s known like Tony Accardo and Paul The Waiter Ricca and Sam Giancana and Tony The Fist Pontone.

So, Love Story it was, but that was back in the end of October. Anna knocked off Love Story in two sittings. She sobbed uncontrollably when Jenny died. When Oliver emerged from the hospital looking forward to the rest of his life she could have tossed the book aside and run to Cambridge, Massachusetts, to console him and ultimately marry him because he was handsome, athletic, principled, romantic, dashing, and — the main reason of all — he wasn’t Anthony.

Anna has brought Love Story with her for a couple of reasons. One, she wishes to carry a book to convey to these sisters that she is as literate as they surely are. And two, this particular book is set around Harvard University. Harvard. Hah-vahd. Having immersed herself in Love Story for two intensely emotional days a couple of months ago, Anna feels she is part of that great institution of higher learning. Harvard. JFK and Bobby went to Harvard. No one from Galewood had ever even come close to going to Harvard. If Joey ever even thinks of Harvard, he thinks of some femme place where fairies run around reading poetry and blowing each other behind the bushes. Harvard.

Harvard Gates

Harvard’s Gates

And the coup de grace for Harvard is that it’s light years better and smarter and more refined and cultured than Northwestern — Take that, Mr. Anthony Pontone, you insulting jerk!

Anna opens Love Story to a random page. Oh, yeah, this is funny. Jenny’s on the phone with some guy named Phil — that’s what she calls him, Phil. As in “I love you, Phil.” Oliver overhears this and flies into a jealous rage. “Who’s Phil?” he demands. Turns out Phil is her Daddy-o. Oh, these crazy, exotic, delightful Hollywood Italians — hehe, they call their fathers by their first names! I mean, alright, it’s not exactly true to life; after all, Anna didn’t even know her own father’s name was Al until she was seven years old and had finally put two and two together. Calling him Al would have been a mortal sin, the first step on the slippery slope to something evil and unspeakable, like incest.

Scene from "Love Story"

Anthony Never Played Hockey For Harvard

Anna reads and rereads the passage, allowing herself to chuckle over it again, a knowing, wise chuckle, the chuckle of someone who reads important books set among the ivy-covered walls of academia. She’s not watching who enters the room.

That’s why, when the woman who sits next to her first speaks, Anna jumps. “Girl!” the woman says. “Whatchu readin’ that commercial bullshit for?”

Anna places her right hand over her sternum. “Oh my God. I thought I was gonna have a heart attack,” she says. She takes a couple of deep breaths until the woman’s words sink in. Now Anna wants to to her to go to hell. But when she looks into the woman’s face, she’s disarmed. The woman is smiling. Her eyes stare directly into Anna’s.

The woman, already sitting, begins to struggle to take her coat off. Anna helps her with it and even folds it neatly and drapes it over the back of her folding chair as the woman straightens herself out.

She wears an Angela Davis-style ‘fro and a yellow and black dashiki. She has on floppy bell-bottomed jeans and knee-high black boots. Her skin is the color of Boston coffee. Her eyes flash with energy and kindness and excitement. Anna thinks it’s as though this woman lives on some higher plane, in a different world, a place where people do things and see things and know other fascinating people. Anna comes to this conclusion merely by looking into the woman’s eyes.

“Oh, girl,” the woman says, “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to freak you out. I was just teasin’.”

“That’s okay,” Anna says.

“What’s your name?”


The woman extents her hand and clasps Anna’s in a soul shake. “I’m Tami. I don’t know anybody else here. Let’s be girlfriends.” With that she laughs loudly and deeply. Anna can’t help but join in.

Yeah, Anna thinks. Yeah. I’d like that.

To be continued

All fictional characters, descriptions, and situations are the property of the author.

Episode 47: If It Feels Good….


By Michael G. Glab

© 2013

BC Logo Final 20130726

Forty-seven —

It’s the day before Halloween, 1970, a Friday. Anna’s wearing her winter coat for the first time this season. The wind rushing through the highrise canyons of the Loop feels as though it can push her down onto the Wabash Avenue sidewalk. If, in fact, the wind should push her down this at this very moment, she’d kiss the concrete at precisely the spot where Anthony lay, about two and a half years ago, on that April Saturday afternoon following the Civic Center anti-war rally, when her husband first tasted Sal Sanfillipo’s billyclub.

From "The Art of the Bookstore"

As usual nowadays, though, Anna’s thoughts are as far as they can be from Anthony. She’s often — maybe too often — thinking about faceless men creeping into her bedroom and running their hands all over her body. Sometimes, when she entertains this delicious fantasy, a woman’s hands sneak in but Anna quickly shakes her head and dispels the whole daydream because, for God’s sake, she’s not a lezzie.

Hell, it’s bad enough that some of these men’s hands are dark-skinned.

Anna thinks: None of us can really control our thoughts. They just come and go as they please. It’s not as if I’m gonna go out and marry a Negro, for Chrissakes.


Anna passes through the revolving door of Kroch’s & Brentano’s, creating an ear-popping whoosh. There, on the first table is a pile of the big best seller that she’s been dying to get hold of since it was released last month. She’s been holding off on getting it because, man, where’s she going to keep it? She really doesn’t want Anthony seeing her reading it. It might give him ideas and the last thing in the world she wants to do is give him ideas. But she’s got ideas of her own, ideas that at first jarred her but were so persistent that she realizes now she can’t keep them at bay.

It was one thing, a couple of years ago, to dream about Bobby Kennedy touching her. Hell, the man was a saint, God rest his soul. With Bobby, it would have been a laying on of the hands. But all those hands she dreams of caressing her bare skin — including the dark-skinned ones — there’s nothing holy about them. Even so, Anna doesn’t feel like a such a bad woman now. I’m a mother, she thinks. I’m not a hoor.

That’s progress. The first time Anna had the fantasy about the hands, she told herself she was a no good slut. Then she took the hottest shower she could bear even though it was a hot July afternoon. That made her feel clean again; she felt unsullied by the stink of her fantasies. And her fingers.

But there’s a limit to the number of scalding showers a sane person can take in the middle of a Chicago summer. And there seems to be no limit to the number of times the image of those hands touching her flesh comes into her mind now. Anna has decided not to fight the feelings anymore. Go with it, man. It’s cool. If it feels good, do it — and if you’re too scared to do it, dream it, dig?

So she’s let her mind and her fingers do their thing. And when Tree’s voice, or Sister James Mary’s voice, or J. Edgar Hoover’s voice, or Sigmund Freud’s voice reminds her she’s a hoor for thinking such things, she does her best to ignore them.


“You Are A Very Sick Woman.”

Sometimes the voice is even her own. Her battle to shut that voice up sometimes crosses a boundary. Once, while putting on her mascara, Anna said out loud, “Shut up, you stupid bitch!”

Anthony, in the other room, said, “What?”

Anna replied, “Nothing.”

“Who you talking to?”


“Yes you were.”

“No I wasn’t.”

Which was the third longest conversation she and Anthony had in the year 1970.

But now’s the time to buy that book, the book that she’s sure will give her a further imprimatur to continue entertaining the fantasy of all those hands caressing her skin. Anna scoops up a fresh hardcover copy of The Sensuous Woman by J and strides purposefully to the checkout counter.

Book Cover

Thank God, thank holy God in heaven, no one else is in line just now. Thank Jesus Christ it’s that young guy with the long hair who’s behind the register and not one of those blue hairs. Thank the Almighty Ma’s not in this store, or Sister James Mary. Or J Edgar Hoover. Or Sigmund Freud.

“Would you like a bag?” the kid asks.

“Absolutely,” Anna says.

To be continued

All fictional characters, descriptions, and situations are the property of the author.

Episode 46: So Evil & So Good


By Michael G. Glab

© 2013

BC Logo Final 20130726

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.

Who’s Who In Black Comedy

BC Logo Final 20130726

Now’s as good a time as any to take a little break from the storyline, just to reacquaint my multitudes of loyal readers with the characters in the serial e-novel, “Black Comedy.”

And I realize there may be one or two literate people in the interwebs universe who haven’t yet begun to read this magnum opus. Well, here’s your chance to get hooked; the first one’s free, kids.

So, let’s take a look at the characters who’ve already made appearances in the story and a few who may have been referred to but whose time to shine is coming up in future episodes. Oh, and I’ve provided an extra little treat. Naturally, I fully expect Hollywood to be knocking down my door to turn this thing into a star-studded blockbuster. [The fact that no producer or director has called yet is only proof that the acquisition strategies have begun; none of these savvy Hollywood moguls wants to tip her or his hand yet.] Therefore, after each character thumbnail description, I provide a photo of a movie actor who I believe would fit the part perfectly.

I’m certain that whenever the Coen Brothers, or whoever the winner of the massive bidding war might be, get their hands on this story, they’ll appreciate my casting input.

Here we go!

● Joey Dudek He opens the story, sitting in a tree after midnight, a pistol in his hand, waiting to ambush a black man who has somehow humiliated the Dudek clan in the all-white, middle-class Galewood neighborhood on the Northwest Side of Chicago. Joey is pudgy and a little slow. He’s never done anything to make his Daddy-o proud but maybe, just maybe, shooting this black man will be the crowning achievement of his young life.


Jonah Hill As Joey Dudek

● Anna Dudek Joey’s sister. Bright, aware, sensitive, curious about the outside world, she doesn’t belong in the Galewood neighborhood but she finds herself stuck there for a lot longer than she ever dreamed. She’s the first kid from either side of her family to go to college. Anna marries the gonzo underground journalist Anthony Pontone (see below), has a couple of kids, and then discovers the women’s movement. Oh, the troubles that follow!


Rebecca Hall As Anna (Dudek) Pontone

● Al Dudek Joey and Anna’s daddy-o. Grew up an only child in an alcoholic home in the old West Side Chicago Polish neighborhood immortalized by Nelson Algren. Al’s determination and hard work were keys to the success of his business, Big Al’s Meats. While it’s true he was single-minded and he worked long, long hours, his company thrived mainly because his brothers-in-law torched restaurants that wouldn’t do business with him. Shh! His wife, Tree (see below), doesn’t know he’s playing footsies with her mobster brothers.

Turturro 1

John Turturro As Al Dudek

● Trescia Dudek Known all her life as Tree, she married the young, good-looking Polish boy, Al Dudek, mainly to get away from her abusive home in Little Sicily. Her Pa distilled bathtub gin for Al Capone’s operation. Her brothers Frankie and Louie ran with the notorious 42 Gang. Her Ma beat her at the drop of a hat. Tree came to despise everything having to do with Sicilians and the Mob. Had she known her husband was in cahoots with her mobster brothers she’d have brained him.


Winona Ryder As Tree Dudek

● Anthony Pontone Anna’s husband. The son of Chicago’s Mob capo, Tony The Fist Pontone, he strikes out in his own direction. He pledges to move heaven and Earth to change the world — until he discovers that the The Man is more than happy to beat his brains in (or even blow his brains out) if he gets too close to shaking things up. After the assassination of Black Panther leader Fred Hampton, Anthony decides to become a househusband. That’s when Anna decides the house is more a prison than a home.


Shia LaBeouf As Anthony Pontone

● James Finnin Sr. Known to one and all as Mickey, he is Al Dudek’s best pal and, as the 36th Ward Democratic Committeeman, is Mayor Richard J. Daley’s (see below) man on the Northwest Side. Mickey, Al, and Tony The Fist Pontone (see below) form the business/politics/organized crime triangle that runs all aspects of life on the Northwest Side of Chicago.


Steve Buscemi As Mickey Finnin

● Jimmie Finnin Jr. Joey Dudek’s best pal, known as The Jungle Man. The two hated each other as little kids but Joey saved The Jungle Man’s life while the city was burning the day after Martin Luther King was assassinated. They’ve been inseparable ever since. The Jungle Man helps Joey concoct the plot to ambush the black man who has humiliated the Dudeks and all of Galewood.

Photo by Mark Abrahams

Paul Dano As Jimmie (The Jungle Man) Finnin

● Julian Perdue Anna goes out into the world to find herself, but instead finds this man, a Vietnam vet, a failed musician, and the first black man ever to dare to live in Galewood. The neighborhood has a nervous breakdown when it discovers the presence of Julian Perdue on Natchez Avenue. Joey Dudek sees killing him as the key to earning his daddy-o’s respect.


Tristan Wilds As Julian Perdue

● David Pergler Like Anthony Pontone, David Pergler dreams of becoming a world-changing journalist. But he’s doing it from within the system. He sees his chance to become a big man in TV news when Julian Perdue moves into the Galewood neighborhood.


Michael Stuhlbarg As David Pergler

● Tony (The Fist) Pontone The Outfit’s front man. Tony The Fist, Al Dudek and Mickey Finnin rule Galewood.


Michael Lerner As Tony The Fist Pontone

● Eddie Halloran The hard-drinking, brawling, devoutly Catholic Cook County State’s Attorney. He could have been the mayor one day. But conspiring with J. Edgar Hoover turns out to be his downfall.


Vince Vaughn As Eddie Halloran

● Sal Sanfillipo A patrolman for the Chicago Police Department. He loves using brute force to right the world — witness the bulge in his crotch whenever he lays the lumber on a protester’s skull. His Natchez Avenue neighbors appreciate his defense of our holy land, even if he did once break his wrist on his wife’s jaw.


Ben Stiller As Sal Sanfillipo

● Alderman Rocco Bianco The face of 36th Ward politics. Rocco’s finest political skill is knowing when to say “D’at’s right,” to his City Hall or Outfit superiors. The alderman finds himself in a sticky situation when Patrolman Sal Sanfillipo recognizes him in a raid on a gay bar.


Michael Badalucco As Ald. Rocco Bianco

● Lenny LaFemina An eager and ambitious lawyer in the city’s law department, Lenny suffers a debilitating injury when he tries to tackle an anti-war protester. Wait’ll you see how he parlays that tragedy into triumph.


Jeremy Piven As Lenny LaFemina

● Mayor Richard J. Daley Black Comedy spans the Daley Dynasty’s reign. Richard J.’s and son Richard M.’s terms in office bookend the tale.


Oliver Platt As Mayor Richard J. Daley

The next installment of Black Comedy will appear here Thursday. Grab every chance you can to read it now because one day soon this’ll be the hottest property in Hollywood. Then you’ll have to pay a cool $25 for a movie ticket, a jumbo popcorn, and a Diet Pepsi if you want to know what happens next.

And to think you coulda read it here for free!

All fictional characters, descriptions and situations are the property of the author.

BLACK COMEDY by Michael G. Glab ©2013

Episode 45: Some Revolutionary


By Michael G. Glab

© 2013

BC Logo Final 20130726

Forty-five —

Anthony Pontone has seen the evidence that Black Panther leader Fred Hampton was assassinated. He has seen Cook County State’s Attorney Eddie Halloran announce the Chairman’s death in triumph and glee.

Who can blame Anthony for thinking the world has gone mad? Since the spring of 1968 he’s seen Martin Luther King, Jr. and Bobby Kennedy rubbed out. He’s seen the black ghettoes of more than a hundred cities around the nation go up in flames. He’s been whacked over the head three times by officers of the Chicago Police Department as they carried out their sacred duty to serve and protect. (To be fair, he can’t remember any of the whackings — what with the resultant concussions he suffered.) He’s seen a city official break his neck trying to tackle a protester during the Days of Rage and then he has watched as the cops took the protester into custody and charged him with attempted murder.

Anthony is only human — all too human, his wife Anna might assert — so his dedication to the Cause of Justice and the Toppling of The Man have flagged. This revolution business is liable to scramble your brains — or worse. Only six months ago, Anthony was reinvigorated after meeting that magnetic young black man, Fred Hampton, from suburban Maywood. But this morning that young man was summarily executed by the Chicago cops. Or J. Edgar Hoover’s FBI men. Or whomever — all anyone really knows, as Sister Deborah said, was they were Pigs.

The radical attorney Barry Paulsen drops Anthony off at the North Side office of The Seed, the underground newspaper where Anthony works, earning less than some of the Outfit kids in his adopted Galewood neighborhood make in weekly allowance. He’s stuck with The Seed for all these lean months because for it, he can write articles that can Change the World. But now Anthony wonders if the world can ever be changed — and at what cost.

At The Seed office, Anthony learns that some Weathermen are heading toward the Town Hall police station, the headquarters for the 23rd District, the city’s smallest. The little station was plunked down a couple of blocks west of the lakeshore on Addison Street late in the 19th Century when the swells who occupied the nearby mansions and exclusive apartments demanded extra police protection from the rabble who were beginning to agitate for crazy things like fair wages, 40-hour work weeks, and — horrors! — social justice. The Weathermen aim to storm the station because…, because…, well, just because. It doesn’t matter why; it matters only that the Weathermen are on their way.

Still in a daze, Anthony heads toward the station at the intersection of Halsted and Addison, not far from Wrigley Field. As he nears the intersection on foot, he notices some shopkeepers hammering sheets of plywood over their front windows as if a hurricane is on the way. He sees squad cars racing toward the station. He runs his hand over his head, feeling underneath his hair the vestiges of three lumps. He stops at the corner of Halsted and Cornelia, one block south of the station. He won’t go any nearer the place. He figures, Three lumps are plenty for anybody.

But Anthony can see enough from this vantage point. Dozens of Weathermen are running around in a dance with dozens of blue-shirted Chicago cops. And those cops…, those cops — Anthony feels his scalp again.

CPD 23rd District Station

The Town Hall Station House, Today

Of course, three whacks on the head from a policeman’s nightstick are nothing compared to having your brains blown out. Anthony was willing to take those three whacks. He may even be willing to suffer one or two more. But he’ll never be willing to be killed for Freedom, Justice, and Changing the World.

His hesitance to risk his life for The Cause isn’t based on some lofty precept. Nor is he able even to rationalize it. The great philosopher Bertrand Russell, for instance, once said he wasn’t willing to die for his beliefs. He reasoned: “What if I’m wrong?” Anthony’s hesitation is borne of a more immediate consideration. He is afraid to die.

So what? So is every sane human being on this planet. Some of them, though, can overcome the imperative for self-preservation. Live free or die. I regret I have only one life to give for my country. I may not get there with you. Stirring, lovely sentiments all, but that impending nothingness, the looming loneliness, the imagined blackness of non-existence, the emptiness — it’s all too terrifying.

Martin and Bobby and Chairman Fred, they all soldiered on, suspecting — no, knowing — they were going to die. Weren’t they afraid? Were they supermen who could overcome the icy terror? Anthony wonders, Why can’t I?

He only knows he hasn’t got the stomach for it anymore. We shall not overcome. I shall not overcome. Some revolutionary.

So, as Anthony watches the revolution from a block away, he understands he is now the former gonzo journalist and young man on the make who’s going to Change the World.

At this very moment, as the Weathermen and the Chicago cops pirouette around each other in their whirling dervish dance, three ear-shattering blasts emanate from the direction of the Town Hall station’s motor pool. Three bright orange-yellow balls of gasoline flame engulf three blue and white squadrols. The brilliant flares rise to twenty feet in the air and become three distinct mini-mushroom clouds.

As Anthony stands riveted, watching this pyrotechnic display, there come within his field of vision three young Weathermen, arms thrust skyward, fists clenched, faces crimson, mouths agape, three animal screams — “Yeah!” — issuing from deep within them, three triumphant players whose team has just scored the winning touchdown in the Big Game.

Later, watching the ten o’clock news, Anthony would learn three homemade pipe bombs had been placed under three police cars at Town Hall.

Now as Anthony watches the three dash madly, victoriously, off into the alleys and gangways of East Lakeview, he begins to weep, for this phase of his young life is finished. Even though he is afraid to die, he has willingly taken one step nearer the end.

To be continued

All fictional characters, descriptions, and situations are the property of the author.

Episode 44: Ice Job


By Michael G. Glab

© 2013

BC Archives Link IV 20130607

Forty-four —

An air of triumph permeates the crowded conference room at the County Building. An all-star cast of luminaries stands a few feet behind the lectern decorated with the plaque of the Cook County State’s Attorney. They’re grinning and buzzing and giggling like frat boys who’ve just won this year’s Turkey Bowl. Barry Paulsen nudges Anthony Pontone and whispers, “I think they’re gonna break out in a fight song.”

Anthony snorts, mirthlessly.

At twelve minutes past noon, one of the assistant state’s attorneys nudges the guy next to him who, in turn nudges the guy next to him, all the way down the line until the police brass, the city attorneys, the FBI field agents, and all the rest of the two dozen law enforcers who wish to get in on the victory party pipe down and turn their eyes left to watch the grand and glorious entrance of the man in whose name the shooting was done early this morning. Striding purposefully, Galewood’s own Eddie Halloran mounts the stage, firmly grasps the lectern and looks out over the sea of reporters, pencils poised above their notebooks, and the battery of television cameras pointed at him. A picket fence of microphones separates him from this raggedy crew. He surveys the assembled reporters and cameramen, a Mona Lisa smirk on his face as if to say, See what men of power and will can do?

The packed conference room becomes hushed. Eddie Halloran puffs out his chest, swallowing enough air to praise himself and his men for setting civilization right. “This morning in an apartment on the West Side, officers of the Chicago Police Department were brutally attacked by violent and extremely vicious members of the Black Panthers revolutionary group,” he says. “The Black Panthers possessed a large arsenal of firearms including shotguns and semi-automatic machine guns. The officers announced their presence and informed the occupants of the apartment that they had a warrant to enter and search the premises. The Black Panthers responded by firing shots. The Chicago police officers defended themselves by returning fire. The officers showed remarkable restraint, bravery, and professional discipline for not firing upon and killing all the members of what was a dangerous guerrilla army of insurrection.”

The image of Sister Deb sitting in her housecoat and bedroom slippers, eight and a half months pregnant, flashes simultaneously into the heads of both Anthony and Barry.

Now Eddie Halloran directs an aide to unveil a couple of blowups of photos taken inside the apartment. Using a long wooden baton, Eddie points at what appear to be two holes in the jamb of the apartment’s front door. “These,” he explains, “are some of the bullet holes created by offensive fire from within the apartment and directed at sworn law officers carrying out their legitimate duties.”

Anthony and Barry crane their necks and peer through squinted eyes at the photos. Anthony whispers to Barry, “I can’t see anything. Can you?” Barry shrugs. Anthony happens to glance at the reporter standing next to him, scribbling furiously in his notebook. The reporter is sketching the doorway. He adds the bullet holes that Eddie Halloran is pointing at. Anthony finds it odd that the reporter appears to be drawing mortar shell holes. “Hey man,” Anthony says to him, “that ain’t cool.”

The reporter rotates his shoulders a few degrees to the right to shield his artwork from Anthony. “Fuck you,” the reporter says.

Barry places his hand on Anthony’s shoulder. “Let’s get out of here,” he whispers. “We’ll go to the apartment.”

The two drive to the West Monroe Street address that until ten minutes to five this morning was the residence of Fred Hampton. But, of course, Fred Hampton is no more. Barry parks the Plymouth a block away. Anthony asks him, “What do you think?”

Barry takes a deep breath. As the two near the apartment on foot, they can see the rays of the late fall sun slanting through the picture window. The front room is packed with young black men, grim looks on their faces. “I’ll tell you what I think,” Barry says finally as they turn up the walkway. “I think the Chicago Police are too smart to walk into an ambush.”


“Yeah. The Brothers are in there right now plotting out the bullet holes. That’s what I think. At least that’s what I’d do if I were them.”

Barry is right. The remaining members of the Chicago chapter of the Black Panthers — those who weren’t killed or busted this morning are poring over the apartment. They don’t have the high-tech equipment or forensic training of the police department’s evidence technicians but they don’t need them. The evidence is plain to see.

After exchanging soul shakes with the Panthers and expressing their condolences, Barry and Anthony are taken on a tour of the place. There, on the floor outside the bedroom, is the dried black oval of blood that had gushed out of the hole in Fred Hampton’s head. There’s the bloody mattress. There are the dozens upon dozens of gaping holes made by police fire in plaster walls, window sashes, and door frames. And, look, there’s the kitchen chair the Pigs made Sister Deb sit in while they executed the Chairman.

Hampton Assassination

Their docent for the tour is a small, quiet man named Brother Ronald. “I was wondering,” Barry asks him, “Where’s Brother Otis.”

“That’s a good question,” Brother Ronald says. “Nobody’s seen him since he left a little after midnight. Maybe The Man got him.”

“Maybe,” says Barry.

“C’mon this way,” Brother Ronald says. “Let’s go look at the front room.” Brother Ronald stops at the the very door jamb pictured in Eddie Halloran’s blow-ups at the press conference. Brother Ronald points at two nail heads sticking out of the woodwork. “There’s your bullet holes,” he says.

A disturbance at the front door. A breathless young man has run in. He’s got news. Brother Otis has been found. Dead. In his apartment. A bullet hole in his head. A pistol in his hand. A note next to him.

The last communication Brother Otis made with the world before he squeezed the trigger of his pistol was a confession. He’d been working for Hoover’s men for months. Brother Fred hadn’t taken a piss without the FBI hearing about it since October 1st. And worst of all, Otis Bryant wrote, the single act that drove him to point his pistol at his temple: he’d slipped five caps of secobarbital into the Chairman’s Kool Aid at dinner. The cops hadn’t wanted Hampton awake when they arrived. Swear to the Almighty Lord in heaven, Otis Bryant wrote, I didn’t know it was an ice job.

Despite the fact that seventeen people are standing in the apartment, having listened to the all-too believable tale related by the breathless young man, there is silence. After a long, long moment, one of the young black men opens his mouth. He says, loudly, drawing the syllables out, “Mutha fucka!” He bolts from the apartment, runs down the front stairs, tumbles to the sidewalk, and shrieks madly, repeatedly bouncing his forehead on the concrete. The rest stare wordlessly at him through the open front door or the front room picture window.

“The world,” Anthony Pontone, the gonzo, underground journalist, says to Barry Paulsen, the earnest, activist lawyer, “has gone mad.”

A minute later, Anthony adds, “I dunno if I can hack it.”

To be continued

 All fictional characters, descriptions, and situations are the property of the author.

Episode 43: He’s Good And Dead Now


By Michael G. Glab

© 2013

BC Archives Link IV 20130607

Forty-three —

The ride east on North Avenue is enough to dislodge anyone’s internal organs on a normal day, what with the patches of buckled pavement here and the potholes there. Today is even worse as Barry Paulsen’s 1962 Ford Falcon judders along with Anthony in the passenger seat. The car has a manual stick and Barry may be a fine attorney but he’s a lousy shifter. Barry’s been trying to sell the car to Anthony for a few weeks now. Since neither knows the first thing about cars, Barry’s grinding of the gears does not dampen Anthony’s interest in the vehicle.

The two have hardly spoken a word to each other since Barry called to tell Anthony the Chairman is dead. Barry has known Fred Hampton for a couple of years now. Anthony, of course, met him just this past summer. But both had a kind of love for the young man who just this moment is being sliced open like a Christmas goose on Cook County coroner Andrew J. Toman’s autopsy table. Anthony has no need to ask any questions about his death. He’s expected it since the day he first exchanged a soul handshake with the Chairman. So has Barry. For that matter, so did the Chairman.

Fredrick Allen Hampton had a way of making people love him. And that, both Barry and Anthony tacitly understand, is what got him killed. The details really don’t matter now.


The Chairman

But the details will come spilling out this morning. Barry flicks on the car radio. It’s the news. The first story, the only story, is the Chairman.

Fred Hampton and fellow Black Panther Mark Clark were killed this morning in a predawn raid by police officers assigned to State’s Attorney Edward Halloran. Halloran’s office told WGN radio the officers were serving a search warrant for weapons when they were fired upon and returned fire. No police officers were reported hurt. Hampton’s revolutionary rhetoric….

Barry backs into a parking space on Augusta Boulevard. He and Anthony walk the block and a half to the Wood Street police station, the only sound being the crunching under their feet of what remains of a sunrise dusting of snow. In his mind, Barry figures the cops were lugging the Chairman, all zipped up in a black body bag, down the steps of his apartment building right about the time the snow was falling. He hasn’t yet seen the photograph that ran on the front page of the Sun-Times this morning. It shows those very patrolmen balancing the litter bearing the Chairman out of the apartment at 2337 West Monroe Street. To a man, they are smiling, as if their team has just scored a touchdown at a key moment in the game. And, in fact, it has.

Photo/Chicago Sun-Times

Barry and Anthony elbow their way past the mob of reporters outside the cop shop entrance. There are more than a handful of angry looking young black men milling around outside as well. Two cops are posted on either side of the front entrance, each armed with a shotgun, just in case those angry looking young men get any funny ideas. Barry flashes his attorney’s credentials at the front desk officer. “We’re here to see Deborah Johnson,” Barry says. It takes Anthony a moment to associate the name with the Chairman’s girlfriend, who just happens to be eight months pregnant and is sitting in her bedclothes and slippers in the basement lockup. Anthony had always heard Fred Hampton’s girlfriend referred to as Sister Deb. But it clicks soon enough.

Anthony thinks, This is what’s important. Not some silly crap Anna wants to hash over.

Upon hearing Johnson’s name, the desk officer narrows his eyes and turns the edges of his mouth down, as if someone has just shown him a photo of dog shit smeared on a dinner plate. The officer makes a big production of checking Barry’s ID photo against his face. He glances at Anthony. “Who’s d’is?” he asks. “My assistant,” Barry lies. “Yer both gonna hafta get frisked,” the cop tells them. Anthony leans forward to protest but Barry heads him off. “Let’s just get it over with,” he whispers

Two patrolmen take their sweet time patting Anthony and Barry down. Anthony wonders why they spend so much time reaching around his inner thighs so he asks Barry about it as they descend the stairs to the basement. “That’s just to show you they can do anything the want with you,” Barry whispers again. “Just to let you know they can shove their fists up your ass if they want.” Anthony actually shudders.

The two are ushered into a small room with unadorned walls covered by countless coats of paint, the latest of which is some indeterminate shade of green. This non-color is made even more bilious by the piercing fluorescent light hanging by two chains from the ceiling. Anthony and Barry cool their heels for what seems twenty minutes until finally the door creaks open and a matron escorts Deborah Johnson in. “Ten minutes,” the matron says. She closes the door and leaves the three alone.


Sister Deb

Deb’s hair is a fright. She smells of sleep. Her eyes are puffy, yet there’s something more to them — something Anthony instantly concludes is murderous rage. Barry asks her how she is and she shrugs. He apologizes and tells her that since there isn’t much time, she must tell him exactly what happened, quickly. Deborah Johnson never asks the attorney who the frizzy-haired kid sitting next to him is. Anthony sits and listens. He realizes as soon as he hears the first sentence she utters he’ll never forget a single word of Sister Deb’s story.

They came to murder him.

We were asleep in the bed. Sumthin’ was wrong with Brother Fred, I know it. We ate dinner around midnight. Brother Fred looked like he liked to fall out before he was finished eatin’. We weren’t even drinkin’, you dig? Like, no spirits. We had Kool-Aid. So don’t nobody tell you he was drinkin’. I reminded him to call his Mama. She’s been insistin’ that he call up every single night before he goes to bed. She was afraid they were gonna kill her boy. She was right.

Right in the middle of talkin’ to his Mama, Brother Fred fell out. Just like that, asleep in the telephone chair. I had to practically carry him to the bed. He was dead weight. I got his pants off but that’s all. He couldn’t cooperate, you know? There was sumthin’ wrong. Sumthin’ real wrong.

Brother Mark took first watch. He was in that raggedy ole chair by the door in the front room. He had a shotgun, like every night. Brother Otis said he’d take the second watch so he went out somewhere. I don’t know where. He’s the lucky one.

Once I got Brother Fred in the bed it took me a long time to fall to sleep because I was listening to him breathin’. Sometimes I thought he done stopped breathin’ but right when I was ready to call somebody for help, he’d take a big breath. It must have been an hour, I guess, yeah, an hour before I could tell he was breathin’ regular. I thought whatever it is, he’ll sleep it off. It took me another hour to fall asleep myself.

I don’t know what time it was but it was still pitch black out when I heard the bangin’, like someone liked to break the doors down. I heard Brother Mark say, ‘What up?’

Deborah Johnson falls silent for a few moments. She stares straight ahead, looking at neither of the two men in the small room with her. Nor is she looking at the sick green wall directly before her. She’s looking through it. Anthony watches her eyes. There’s no sign of tears in them. She continues.

I ain’t gonna never hear Brother Mark say another word. There was a shot. Louder than anything. And then there was another one, louder than that. I shook Brother Fred but he wouldn’t get up. I shook him and shook him and shook him.

She falls silent again and stares before she continues.

The shootin’ started for real. It was like a war. Like Vietnam. Like World War II. I didn’t say a word. They must have had machine guns and shotguns. I know I heard automatic guns. I heard cracks like pistols. There were bullets comin’ right through the bedroom, right over us. I hit Brother Fred with my hand on his face, like slappin’ him. All he could do was lift his head just a little bit so I know he was alive but I pushed his head back into the pillow. He wasn’t hit. The bullets were comin’ from both sides, the front and the back. They were goin’ both ways over us. I pressed Chairman Fred down on the bed then I got on top of him, to protect him, like.

Then the shootin’ stopped. I heard heavy runnin’ all around. These two men in suits came into the bedroom. They weren’t in blue uniforms, you know? They were in suits like Hoover’s men. I don’t know who they were, but they were the Pigs. One of them yelled out, ‘Hey, we got a broad here!’ He grabbed me by the wrist and yanked me up. He looked at my belly. He went, ‘She’s pregnant.’ They pushed me off to some other men in suits. They definitely had automatic weapons. I saw ‘em. They took me into the kitchen and made me sit down. The first two men were in the room alone with Brother Fred. I heard one of ‘em say, ‘That’s Fred Hampton.’ The other man said, ‘Is he dead? Bring him out.’ Then that first man said, ‘He’s barely alive. He’ll make it.’ Then I heard them draggin’ sumthin’, like a ton of bricks.

Deborah Johnson turns silent a third time, this the longest silence of all.

Then I heard two shots. Bang. Bang. That second man said, ‘He’s good and dead now.’


The door creaks open. The matron says, “That’s it. You’re done.”

Deborah, Barry, and Anthony stand. “Thanks, Sister Deborah,” Barry says. “I’m so sorry.” Deb Johnson looks right through him. The matron holds Deborah by the elbow. “C’mon,” she says. Deborah follows her silently.

Barry and Anthony collapse in their chairs, spent. Neither says a word for at least three minutes. Finally, Anthony says, “I don’t know what to do.”

“I do,” Barry says. “We’re going downtown.”


“The County Building. Halloran’s going to have a press conference at noon. We have to be there.”

To be continued

 All fictional characters, descriptions, and situations are the property of the author.

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