1001 Train Rides in Chicago

My new book “1001 Train Rides in Chicago” will be published by Eckhartz Press around the 4th of July. It is a work of fiction that contains 64 short vignettes of people who ride the eight lines of CTA trains. The cover design (which you see above) is by Leonid Osseny. Leonid will also be providing some sketches of the passengers on the trains. It is hoped that my readers will experience some empathy with these fictional characters. Their common thread is that they are members of our human community, and like all of us, they seek to find meaning and purpose in what is often a difficult world. I want to share some of my characters with you on this blog. So today please meet Antoine Hargrove.

Antoine Hargrove has been working as a wheelchair attendant at O’Hare for nearly two years. He had never been to the airport before he started working there. Although he is now 27 years old, he still hasn’t flown on an airplane.
He gets to work by hopping on the Clark Street bus heading south. Then he boards the Blue Line at Monroe and Dearborn. O’Hare is the final destination on the train.
Antoine and his mother live in a subsidized low-income apartment in Old Town. The youngest sibling in the family, his brother and sister left a while back. Both his mom and dad use to work years ago at the Oscar Mayer plant in the neighborhood, where the work was steady and the benefits decent. Then the company shut it down and moved the jobs out of state.
His dad was never able to get a decent job after that. His diabetes got really got bad, and soon he passed away, leaving his mom to provide for three children working on the pittance of a salary that a Certified Nursing Assistant earns.
Working as a wheelchair attendant isn’t a bad gig. Most of the people he wheels are old or disabled, sometimes both. Every now and then he’ll have a nice discussion with someone who he is wheeling down the concourse. Frequently though it is pretty much dead silence on the person’s part. They just want to get to Point A to Point B as quick as possible, with no hassles or drama.
He never quite knows how he’s going to make out in tips for the day. He might be stiffed by a guy in a business suit, but a derelict-looking guy might put a twenty in his hand. The two things that he has learned on the job is that life is full of surprises and don’t judge people by their appearances.


Bloomsday 2014

It’s almost June 16th. Bloomsday. I enthusiastically celebrate this day commemorating my Jewish brother (well, sort-of), Leopold Bloom, as he travels and travails through Dublin and its environs on June 16, 1904. Bloom’s odyssey is chronicled in James Joyce’s Ulysses, arguably the greatest book ever written in the English language.

I, like so many countless others, endlessly struggled to read the book. I tried three times before I enrolled in Steve Diedrich’s Ulysses class at the Newberry, and soon the genius of Joyce slowly, but very truly, began to reveal itself in the fantastic dialogue and narrative. Only ten sessions with Steve ( a non-academic who worked by day as an insurance actuary) and words became images, the literary mystery unfolded into sense and sensibility, and the book’s marvelous cast of characters leaped forward out of Joyce’s unbridled imagination and into my mind and soul.

 I took Steve’s class in 2007. Sadly he died of cancer three years later. Not only had he taught the Ulysses class at the Newberry for twenty plus years, but he also organized a Bloomsday celebration each year at the Cliff Dwellers.

Steve transformed me into that small circle of literati who are proud to be called “Joyce enthusiasts.” I celebrated my first Bloomsday at the Cliff Dwellers in 2008 watching Steve orchestrating a marvelous selection of readings from the text. The next year, my wife Anne (another one of Steve’s students) and I traveled to Dublin as pilgrims on our own Joycean hajj. We remain regulars at the Cliff Dwellers annual Bloomsday.

This year, once again, my friend and the illustrator of my book, the incomparable Leonid Osseny, enhances the Cliff Dwellers Bloomsday festivities by exhibiting some of his Ulysses sketches on easels. He has an illustration for each chapter of the book. Leonid’s exhibit of “Chicago Bridges,” by happenstance, also is on display at the Cliff Dwellers.

Hope to see you at the Cliff Dwellers this Bloomsday where Molly Bloom always gets the final word to say. Yes!              





Bloomsday at the Cliff Dwellers

Celebrate Bloomsday, a few days early, at the historic Cliff Dwellers Club in Chicago on Thursday evening, June 13. In true Dubliner fashion, people will gather for drinks at 5:30 p.m.. The program of readings from James Joyce’s Ulysses commences at 6:15 p.m. At the conclusion of the readings, at about 8:15 p.m., the Joycean revelers will proceed for food and other merriment to conclude the evening. It’s a way to bask in the brilliance of the words of perhaps the most significant novel ever written in the English language. As Edna O’Brien states “Joyce did something extraordinary: he threw out the entire history of English literature —language, story, structure, everything—and created a new and stupendous work.”

This year’s Bloomsday at the Cliff Dwellers has an added enhancement. Internationally acclaimed artist, Leonid Osseny, will showcase the illustrations that he has done on each chapter of Ulysses. These were the same pieces that were exhibited at the Joyce Center in Dublin during the Bloomsday Centennial  in 2004.

So join Leopold, Molly, Buck, the Croppy Boy and others as we ring in Bloomsday 2013 at the Cliff Dwellers! For additional information check out http://www.cliff-chicago.org.