Category Archives: Tennessee Williams

The Pencil Today:

THE QUOTE

“Hell is yourself and the only redemption is when a person puts himself aside to feel deeply for another person.” — Tennessee Williams

CAN A POLITICIAN EVER BE GOOD?

Newshound Joy Shayne Laughter stopped by the Book Corner for a visit before going into the WFHB studios to interview a nationally-known digital doyenne yesterday afternoon.

We got around to talking about Facebook and we both agreed that sometimes we have to take a time out from it because, well, it has this weird capacity to turn even the sweetest soul into a jerk. And the two of us are nothing if not sweet souls.

I’ve been tempted a hundred times to write on someone’s wall, “Jesus Christ, what kind of stupid moron are you?!” Much to my surprise, the seemingly grounded and mature Joy admitted that she, too, finds herself on the brink of lashing out in like fashion at people on FB.

Facebook turns everybody into a bully to some degree or another. And god forbid any elected official should sneeze the wrong way — he’ll be strung up before he can reach for his handkerchief.

Case in point: Yesterday Republican Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey praised the federal government and President Barack Obama for their quick response in the wake of Hurricane Sandy.

Before the president could say, Don’t mention it, this meme image appeared on Facebook:

So, in essense, the Facebook zeitgeist now holds that no one on Earth can ever have a change of heart. There are no epiphanies. Redemption is for the birds. No matter what tragedy befalls you, you must hold fast to every embarrassing, opportunistic, politically expedient statement you’ve ever uttered, otherwise, you’ll be the object of ridicule for millions.

Who knows, maybe Chris Christie in a couple of weeks will proclaim that Barack Obama is Benedict Arnold, Sacco & Vanzetti, and Timothy McVeigh all rolled into one. It could happen.

But in this moment of horror, isn’t it possible that Chris Christie has just learned something?

Can it be that from now on, thanks to this horrifying storm, he’s become a better man?

Or in this Facebook age are we all obliged to be assholes forever?

I’M SQUARE

Here’s a confession: I have no idea what the term “gangnam style” means.

In Lieu Of A Gangnam Style Pic: Marilyn Monroe And Her Pumpkins

Here’s another: I’m not going to try to find out either. Overall, I feel quite good about this decision.

G.I. DON’T LIKE JOE

Just heard a Joe Walsh ad on the radio last night. He’s running for US Congress against Tammy Duckworth in Illinois’ 8th District. He’s also the guy who declared during a candidates’ debate a week and a half ago that he’s against abortion even if the mother’s life is in danger.

That alone would lead a reasonable person to assume Walsh is a pretty sharp-edged character. As in this imaginary exchange:

Walsh: Sharp, But Not As A Tack

Doctor: “Joe, I’m sorry but your wife’s situation has taken a bad turn. She’s having what we call an ectopic pregnancy. The situation is dire. There’s a strong possibility that if we go ahead with this delivery, she won’t make it.”

Joe: “Doctor, that’s terrible. What can we do about it?”

Doctor: “Well, Joe, we live in Illinois, which allows us to terminate the pregnancy. As it stands right now, the odds are stacked mightily against your wife. What do you say, Joe?”

On second thought, I won’t presume to guess what Joe might say in such a tragic situation. But I do know what he said at the debate. He claimed there is no such thing as a pregnancy that can endanger the life of the mother, an assertion that medical science holds to be about as wrong as wrong can be.

Yes, Joe, This Can Kill A Woman

I’d like to think that just because Joe Walsh says bombastic things during political debates, it doesn’t mean he would act so bombastically in real life.

Joe Walsh likes to use words the way others use stilettos. He had to know his statement would cut many, many women to the bone.

The script for his radio ad was similarly filled with razor verbiage. That’s really nothing new. He has accused Duckworth, an Iraq war veteran who lost both legs in combat, of not being a real hero because she mentions her disability on the campaign trail. In Joe Walsh’s world a soldier who gets her legs blown off should just shut up about it.

Walsh To Duckworth: Quit Bitching

Do you get the feeling Joe Walsh doesn’t care much for women?

Anyway, Walsh’s ad hammers home the point that Duckworth served for a time in disgraced former Gov. Rod Blagojevich‘s cabinet. Blagojevich, you’ll recall, is not only the latest governor emeritus of the Land of Lincoln to occupy a suite in the penitentiary, but is perhaps the most brazen and venal of that gang.

Toward the end of Blagojevich’s term as reprobate-in chief, he named Duckworth the state’s Director of the Department of Veteran’s Affairs. Duckworth jokingly remarked that Blagojevich gave her the job so she could do favors for her friends. Those friends, of course, were military veterans and, well, the director’s job by definition is to do favors for them.

Everybody had a good laugh over that one.

But now Joe Walsh uses that audio clip in his advertisements, hoping to make Duckworth sound like a cheap political hustler in the Blagojevich mold. Look what Rod Blagojevich and Tammy Duckworth did to the state of Illinois, the ad bleats. Now she wants to do the same thing to the country in Washington.

A Shady Connection?

The idea being she’ll try to sell political appointments and squeeze campaign contributions out of big shots in exchange for favorable legislation, just the way her former boss did.

Problem is, Duckworth’s reputation is sterling. She wasn’t implicated in the Blagojevich todo — in fact, few outside of the former Governor’s immediate conspiracy circle were.

That doesn’t matter to Joe Walsh.

By the way, the Illinois Chamber of Commerce just endorsed Walsh. Oh, and Duckworth worked for a couple of years in Barack Obama’s federal Department of Veteran’s Affairs. So Joe works for obsessive profiteers and Tammy worked for a former community organizer.

Makes me think of a line I read recently: “I’ll take the character of a community organizer over that of a venture capitalist any day.”

The only events listings you need in Bloomington.


Thursday, November 1st, 2012

VOTE ◗ The Curry Building, 214 W. Seventh St.; 8am-6pm

LECTURE ◗ IU Maurer School of Law — “Narratives of Infanticide: Mothers, Murder, and the State in Nineteenth-Century America,” Presented by Felicity Turner; 4pm

CLASS ◗ Lake Monroe, Paynetown SRA Activity CenterNew Rules for Deer Season: Are You Ready for Opening Day?; 6:30pm

FILM ◗ IU Cinema — “The Connection“; 7pm

MUSIC ◗ IU Ford-Crawford HallEarly Music Institute Chamber Music Concert; 7pm

HISTORY ◗ Monroe County History CenterLetters from the Front, Written by James F. Lee to members of His family in Monroe County: Bringing the Civil War Up Close and Personal, Presented by Steve Rolfe of Monroe County Civil War Round Table; 7pm

SPORTS ◗ IU Assembly HallHoosier men’s basketball vs. Indiana Wesleyan; 7pm

SPORTS ◗ IU GymnasiumHoosier wrestling vs. Manchester; 7pm

FEST ◗ IU Latino Cultural CenterDia de los Muertos; 7pm

MUSIC ◗ The Player’s PubMonika Herzig Trio; 8pm

MUSIC ◗ IU AuditoriumStraight No Chaser; 8pm

MUSIC ◗ IU Auer HallTrombone Choir, Carl Lenthe, director; 8pm

MUSIC ◗ IU Ford-Crawford HallClarinet Choir, Howard Klug, director; 8:30pm

MUSIC ◗ The BluebirdG Love & Special Sauce; 9pm

MUSIC ◗ Max’s PlaceNew Old Cavalry; 9pm

MUSIC ◗ The BishopPaul Collins, Purple 7, The Sands; 9:30pm

ONGOING:

ART ◗ IU Art MuseumExhibits:

  • “New Acquisitions,” David Hockney; through October 21st
  • “Paragons of Filial Piety,” by Utagawa Kuniyoshi; through December 31st
  • “Intimate Models: Photographs of Husbands, Wives, and Lovers,” by Julia Margaret, Cameron, Edward Weston, & Harry Callahan; through December 31st
  • French Printmaking in the Seventeenth Century;” through December 31st
  • Celebration of Cuban Art & Film: Pop-art by Joe Tilson; through December 31st
  • Threads of Love: Baby Carriers from China’s Minority Nationalities“; through December 23rd
  • Workers of the World, Unite!” through December 31st
  • Embracing Nature,” by Barry Gealt; through December 23rd
  • Pioneers & Exiles: German Expressionism,” through December 23rd

ART ◗ Ivy Tech Waldron CenterExhibits:

  • Ab-Fab — Extreme Quilting,” by Sandy Hill; October 5th through October 27th
  • Street View — Bloomington Scenes,” by Tom Rhea; October 5th through October 27th
  • From the Heartwoods,” by James Alexander Thom; October 5th through October 27th
  • The Spaces in Between,” by Ellen Starr Lyon; October 5th through October 27th

ART ◗ IU SoFA Grunwald GalleryExhibit:

  • Buzz Spector: Off the Shelf; through November 16th
  • Small Is Big; Through November 16th

ART ◗ IU Kinsey Institute GalleryExhibits:

  • A Place Aside: Artists and Their Partners;” through December 20th
  • Gender Expressions;” through December 20th

PHOTOGRAPHY ◗ IU Mathers Museum of World CulturesExhibit:

  • “CUBAmistad” photos

ART ◗ IU Mathers Museum of World CulturesExhibits:

  • “¡Cuba Si! Posters from the Revolution: 1960s and 1970s”
  • “From the Big Bang to the World Wide Web: The Origins of Everything”
  • “Thoughts, Things, and Theories… What Is Culture?”
  • “Picturing Archaeology”
  • “Personal Accents: Accessories from Around the World”
  • “Blended Harmonies: Music and Religion in Nepal”
  • “The Day in Its Color: A Hoosier Photographer’s Journey through Mid-century America”
  • “TOYing with Ideas”
  • “Living Heritage: Performing Arts of Southeast Asia”
  • “On a Wing and a Prayer”

BOOKS ◗ IU Lilly LibraryExhibit:

  • Outsiders and Others: Arkham House, Weird Fiction, and the Legacy of HP Lovecraft;” through November 1st
  • A World of Puzzles,” selections from the Slocum Puzzle Collection

PHOTOGRAPHY ◗ Soup’s OnExhibit:

  • Celebration of Cuban Art & Culture: “CUBAmistad photos; through October

PHOTOGRAPHY ◗ Monroe County History CenterExhibit:

  • Bloomington: Then and Now,” presented by Bloomington Fading; through October 27th

ARTIFACTS ◗ Monroe County History CenterExhibits:

  • Doctors & Dentists: A Look into the Monroe County Medical Professions
  • What Is Your Quilting Story?
  • Garden Glamour: Floral Fashion Frenzy
  • Bloomington Then & Now
  • World War II Uniforms
  • Limestone Industry in Monroe County

The Ryder & The Electron Pencil. All Bloomington. All the time.

The Pencil Today:

THE QUOTE

“Most artists work all the time. They do, actually, especially good artists. They work all the time. What else is there to do?” — David Hockney

FROM THE CHELSEA TO EAST PILSEN

Reading about the time Patti Smith and Robert Mapplethorpe lived in New York City’s Chelsea Hotel got me thinking about a few years that I spent living and working in a similar milieu.

The Chelsea was the storied Manhattan locus of artists, writers, actors, musicians, and many other ne’er-do-wells. Arthur C. Clarke lived and wrote there — he penned “2001: A Space Odyssey” in his cramped room. Dylan Thomas wrote and died there. Mark Twain spent time there. So did O. Henry, Leonard Cohen, Arthur Miller, Gore Vidal, Tennessee Williams, Allen Ginsberg, Brendan Behan, Simone de Beauvoir, Jean-Paul Sartre, and Thomas Wolfe.

The Chelsea’s visual artists included Christo, Julian Schnabel, Frida Kahlo, R. Crumb, Jasper Johns, Claes Oldenburg, Willem De Kooning, and Henri Cartier-Bresson.

More musicians than can reasonably listed here called the Chelsea home as well. People from Edith Piaf to Iggy Pop received their mail at the Chelsea.

The Chicago art scene at the turn of this century was centered around the East Pilsen neighborhood just southwest of the Loop. In 1998, I moved into a first floor apartment on 17th Place and, later, lived at Carpenter Avenue and 18th Street. I spent my days clacking my keyboard at the Hardware Cafe coffeehouse on Halsted, one of the neighborhood’s social centers.

The Chelsea mixed creative types with drag queens, hookers, and poet-wannabes. East Pilsen melded working artists with gang-bangers and people who claimed to be artists mainly because they couldn’t keep a day job.

One night I watched two neighborhood toughs stroll out of Pauly’s Tavern at 18th and Union, conversing and laughing, looking for all the world like the best of friends until one guy cold-cocked the other, dropping his pal to the ground like a sack of sugar. The puncher picked up the punchee, brushed him off, and the two resumed conversing and laughing as if nothing had happened.

The writers, actors, painters, sculptors, and other societal misfits of East Pilsen learned to steer clear of the thugs and hellions. But we found each other. We were not as celebrated as the Chelsea artists, but we worked as hard. Then again, none of us labored as diligently as our New York counterparts at becoming celebrated, so there is that.

Below, I present a reprint of a story I wrote for the Chicago Reader 12 years ago.

ON EXHIBIT: A SECRET SOCIETY SHOWS ITSELF

A year ago this month I was abducted by a tough-looking character with a filterless Camel dangling from his lips. He placed a callused hand on my shoulder and said, “Come with me.” I hesitated. “Don’t worry,” he said. “You won’t get hurt.”

He brought me to a nondescript storefront in East Pilsen, where I was forced to listen to a CD of some Deep South banjo picking. A group of people got up from a table full of steaming food, danced around me, and placed leis and chains around my neck. A cape was draped over my shoulders and a titanic sombrero balanced on my head. A fellow who looked to be the leader of this mob handed me a two-foot-long pipe brush. “This is your scepter,” he said.

“Welcome to the weekly meeting of the Ever-So-Secret Order of the Lampreys,” this fellow — we’ll call him K — said. “You’ve been selected as our adjudicator. It is your duty to judge the art that’s been made over the last week by our members. Tonight you are all-powerful. You are a deity. Wield your power wisely.” He motioned for me to sit in a chair.

For the next two hours I watched and judged as some two dozen sculptures, drawings, paintings, poems, and musical pieces were paraded before me. All the artwork, I learned, was inspired by a single word: “bodacious.” The Lampreys fittingly are a bodacious bunch.

“A couple of years ago I was sitting around thinking, ‘All I ever do is make stuff for clients,'” says K, a tall guy with a Dixie accent and hair that changes colors as often as the wind changes directions. “I do architectural ironwork and ceramic and marble work. I enjoy making objects; it’s a good way to make money. But I like to make sculpture. I like to make useless objects. So I brainstormed with my buddy S, my roommate at the time.”

K and S had met when S crashed one of K’s parties. K throws parties at the drop of a hat. He’ll even celebrate the night before a party. His semiannual pig roasts are known far and wide, attracting hundreds of artists, musicians, old hippies, bikers, manic-depressives, bookies, and schoolteachers. K took an immediate shine to S, a sculptor from Australia, and hired him to work in his metal shop. A couple of weeks later, S and his girlfriend, L, moved into K’s spare bedroom.

“We were drawn together,” K says. “He had a similar problem.” S spent every waking hour making art for his portfolio. His only concern was the business of making art. K and S brooded over glasses of whiskey one night. They mooned over their idealistic days as aspiring artists. “It was a blast back then,” K says. “Then we started taking ourselves too seriously.

“So we decided to make an object once a week that’s not related to our portfolio, our clients, to anything. It would be absolutely non-marketable. L told us about this big Sunday brunch at her family’s house in Australia. Everyone had a standing invitation and would get fed well.”

K found it impossible to pass up yet another excuse for a party. He and S planned to make new pieces for a brunch the following Sunday. “That first week, there were the two of us,” K recalls. “L thought it was kind of cool, so the next time there were three of us. Someone heard about it, and the next week we had four.” Within months the revolving cast of artists and hangers-on numbered in the dozens. Soon the brunch became a ritual that had to be codified.

“We decided we would no longer own our pieces,” K says. “They would become property of the group. We also figured if we were going to present our pieces formally there should be some kind of ceremony with someone chosen to preside over the presentation.” Thus began the tradition of kidnapping some unsuspecting sap to be the adjudicator.

“The adjudicators are dressed awfully silly,” K acknowledges. “You cannot have a secret society that doesn’t have a set of absurd rules. With this comes a great deal of pomp and circumstance. We take it to the extreme by allowing the adjudicators to believe they are all-powerful. There was one adjudicator who demanded that we all get naked. We thought about it but then realized there were some members who didn’t want to. So there was a coup. We shouted, ‘The King is dead; long live the King!'”

The adjudicator bestows an array of fanciful awards. A scrap of polished wood is known as the False Gem of Hope. A well-worn wig is the Matted Hair of Revulsion. The Sardines of Delusion is a can of (what else?) sardines, while the Banana of Ill Repute is a two-year-old black, shriveled banana.

“This whole idea caught on,” K says. “Everyone we invited to the meeting started participating. We come from a lot of different backgrounds. We have trolley drivers and carpenters. There are some people who’ve never made art before. One guy, a computer programmer, joined us for the word ‘spicy’ and sewed 400 chili peppers to a pair of boxer shorts and wore them and nothing else, dancing into the room.” With so many making art, it became obvious a weekly theme was in order. So at the end of his or her term, the adjudicator has the task of choosing the next week’s word. “Our first word was ‘structure,'” K says. “Then we had ‘symmetry.’ We had ‘beef.’ Then there was ‘lagniappe,’ a little something extra. Then there was a made-up word from sci-fi, ‘grok.'”

Early on someone suggested the group needed a name. A lightbulb went off over K’s head. “Society has always viewed artists as lampreys, sucking on its soft, fleshy underbelly,” he says. “We decided to claim the name. We suck.”

These being artists, a late-morning starting time for the brunches was as welcome as a 3 AM alarm clock blast. The Lampreys began to gather later and later in the day. Now dinner is served at around 8:30 or 9 PM.

In November 1998 the Lampreys erected an altar to the memory of scientist Nikola Tesla for a Day of the Dead exhibit. “Tesla was a nut,” K says. “He was a Lamprey.” Someone described it to Chuck Thurow, director of the Hyde Park Art Center. Thurow dropped in on a Lamprey meeting and decided, almost on the spot, to offer the gallery to them for an exclusive show.

“3½ Months of Sundays” will open this Sunday, March 5. The group will erect altars to such overlooked geniuses as Sen No Rikyu, who several centuries ago elevated the simple Japanese afternoon tea to a formal ritual, and Philo Farnsworth, who invented the TV picture tube but had to sue RCA to earn royalties. The altars will surround a centerpiece containing 2,000 Lamprey pieces, displayed together for the first time.

“One of the problems with showing Lamprey work is it’s not very commodified,” K says. “It’s not something we can sell. We can’t be shown in a typical gallery because there’s no money to be made off us. It’s more about the process and the meeting each week. The object becomes de-emphasized and less precious. The collection becomes fascinating.”

I was fascinated that Sunday night a year ago. After I’d reviewed all the art and passed out the awards, K told me I had one final duty: choose the next week’s word. I pondered for ten minutes and then wrote on a big chalkboard the word “mortar.”

Immediately K stripped off my royal raiment. “Now you’re nothing,” K shouted gleefully. The tough-looking character with the filterless Camel dangling from his lips smirked. “You’re just like one of us,” he said. I couldn’t wait to come back the next Sunday.

The opening party for “3½ Months of Sundays” will be held from 4 to 6 PM this Sunday at the Hyde Park Art Center, 5307 S. Hyde Park Blvd. A closing party will be held from 5 to 9 PM on Saturday, April 15. Call 773-324-5520 for more information.

— M

(Originally published in the Chicago Reader, March 2, 2000)

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