Meeting Algren

After a filling meal of pierogis and sauerkraut at the Busy Bee restaurant in Wicker Park, I crossed Damen and hurried through the park, past the smack heads and other lost souls, arriving at the party at about nine. When I walked into the cramped apartment on Evergreen, I recognized him immediately from the photo on the jacket of my copy of The Man with the Golden Arm. Algren was sitting restlessly on a chair in the kitchen talking to a tall blonde named Dottie. He took long drags on his Marlboro and was sipping from a glass filled with what looked like rye.

A guy that I knew, Bill Schmidt, an old beatnik who owned a hole-in-the-wall bookstore on Wells, sat nearby and asked me if I would like to meet the writer he called Lord Nelson. Of course I jumped at the opportunity, and Bill introduced me to him as a nice kid with literary pretensions. Algren smiled at me knowingly and said how could I stand hanging out with a bullshitter like Schmidt. We all laughed, no feelings were hurt in this good comradely banter.

I wanted to say something of importance to Algren. Perhaps some details about his love affair with Simone and how Sartre reacted to it. Maybe express my empathy to him about how he got screwed by Hollywood. Instead, after a few seconds of painful silence, Algren turned his attention back to Dottie, while I walked away heading into the living room.





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