040 Tin Box, Cameos

Friday, January 14th, 2011

Most old cities have a proliferation of junk shops and antique stores, places to jettison the detritus of an old life or shape the beginning of a new one. In a dark and shadowed city like Chicago, a city made of layers and hidden meanings, built of secrets and watered with blood, junk shops and antique stores can yield amazing finds.

Some shops carry tinware, brightly painted cannisters and boxes with hinged lids that once held candy, face powders, soaps, medicines. It’s rare to find one in pristine condition; usually they are dented, dinged, spotted with rust, the paint fading from exposure to sun. Look for them. Sometimes they contain secrets, artifacts, hidden things.

Look, in particular, for a tin box roughly the size of a cigar box, with rounded corners. It was once a dark, cobalt blue but the paint has faded to a lighter tone somewhere between sky blue and turquoise. There’s faded filigree in tarnished gold and silver, a rose or a chrysanthemum painted in a now-sickly-pink on the lid. Pick it up. The dented tin is cool to touch, and something inside rattles and shifts when the container is moved. If you pick inside, you’ll see the tin contains cameos, dark pink and pale white. You can’t quite make out the faces.

Buy the tin.

It will be slightly more expensive than you thought it would be. The cashier won’t notice the clicking cameos inside.

Take it all home.

Once home, look inside again. Take the cameos out. The backs are slick, cool and hard, but they warm against your hand. The faces are round, smiling, beautiful; cherubs, perhaps, or small children.

They are your children.

You hold, in your hand, all your potential children.

If you time it right, you can select the next to be born.

Or you can destroy them, or trade them, or sell them.

An unborn soul is worth quite a bit, to the right buyer.

038 Pigeon I

Thursday, January 13th, 2011

The original version of this post was somehow deleted when I tried to edit the title. This is a placeholder until I can recreate it.

Essentially: pigeons are the souls of Chicagoans who died hungry.

Ugh, I can’t remember all of it. It was good, though.

039 Pigeon II

Wednesday, January 12th, 2011

There are always pigeons in Chicago. Always. When one visits the same spots repeatedly, one notices that some pigeons are always there through the years (if one is observant), no matter how much time has passed. There is always a pigeon with only one toe on one foot at the Randolph and Wabash stop on the CTA; there’s always a black pigeon spattered with white, as though someone had thrown bleach on it, at the Daly Plaza.

It’s relatively easy to catch a pigeon, if one so desires. They throng thickly and are used to humans. It’s no great feat to snatch one into a sack and wring its neck, to pluck its feathers and use them to stuff a pillow.

If one sleeps on a pillow stuffed with pigeon feathers, one will dream. One will dream of sitting on telephone wires and will hear, in dream, the City’s secrets through one’s feet. One will dream of flying and ache, upon waking, knowing that one will never fly in truth.

037 Good Things

Wednesday, July 14th, 2010

When you take the Milwaukee North line in to Chicago, a few stops before Union station, look out the right hand windows. There’s a series of low brick buildings– one-story warehouses or garages, maybe; storage of some sort perhaps– with no windows facing the tracks. They are coated with layer upon layer of spray paint and tagging, all of it relatively recent. One building is covered in this manner, save for a broad swath in the center of the building that is paint free save for one sentence. It’s painted in spidery letters, in chalk white spray paint.

Good things are coming.

That’s what it says, “Good things are coming,” floating in an island of bare brick, flanked on either side by brightly colored elaborate names and nicknames and symbols and arrows.

Most passengers don’t notice the graffiti, the buildings. They are occupied with newspapers, magazines, books, electronic devices. They nap or stare unseeing out the windows, lost in their worlds and imaginings. But those who do look, who do see, do not feel reassured. This is not a good and kind message like “You are beautiful,” or “you are loved,” or “better the day” or the other positive signs that have been popping up spray painted around the city in the past few years. No, this one sends a creeping chill down the back of those who see it.

What’s sauce for the goose is not always sauce for the gander, and what some people consider “good” others consider unimaginably harrowing.

036 Black Cat

Thursday, December 17th, 2009

There’s a small elementary school not far from Balmoral Race Track, in the distant South Suburbs of Chicago, not far from Indiana. Near that school was an abandoned church, which was torn down in the late 1990s after a series of disturbing events.

During the late 1980s and very early 1990s, locals were very disturbed to find cats nailed to the door of the church on what seemed to be random dates. Concerned parents set themselves up in deer blinds to try and catch the perpetrator or perpetrators, however no one was ever caught in the act. Further, nobody in the vicinity ever reported their pets going missing, leading some to deduce that the perpetrators were either using barn cats or feral cats (tricky animals to catch), or else importing cats from miles away.

Parents and teachers admonished local children about witchcraft and satanism, warned them to stay away from grave yards and strangers, and chalked the proceedings up as an unsolved mystery.

One bright autumn morning in 1991, two teens walking through the woods found a wallet. Opening it, they found no ID or credit cards, but they did find money and condom still in its wrapper. One of the pair took out the money and then pocketed the wallet, resolving to turn it in to the cops after their walk– a walk that was interrupted by them tripping over what turned out to be the nude, half-eaten corpse of a young man. Most of his face was gone, as were his hands, making indentifcation difficult. The forensic examiner determined that the majority of bite marks on him were feline in nature, but was unable to determine cause of death. No more cats were found nailed to the church door, and it stood abandoned until it began listing to one side, under the effects of winter and neglect.

It took a while to resolve ownership of the building, but it was condemned and torn down. The small cemetery attached to it remains, and continues to be a local hang out for teens escaping parental supervision.

035 Organ

Tuesday, December 15th, 2009

The stretch of houses on St. Louis between Lawrence and the River is primarily brick two and three flats. One of these, a dark red brick two flat with the front porch converted to an enclosed sun room, and blown roses leaning limply against the iron fence, is frequently host to odd music. Passers by notice this music at random hours of the day and early evening, rarely at night. It sounds like a polka played one and a half times normal speed, on an organ. Nobody in the neighborhood plays the organ, and although pedestrians and neighbors pinpoint the music’s location consistently as being this particular house, those within the house claim never to hear it while indoors.

034 Zebra Mussels

Friday, December 4th, 2009

In 1988, a Russian vessel mistakenly emptied its bilge into Lake St. Claire. The living contents of that bilge water migrated through the great lakes, some of it ending up in Lake Michigan and the Chicago River.

Every few summers since then, residents of Chicago notice that the water, which comes from the Lake, tastes odd. Some describe it as “greenish” tasting, or “almost grassy.” The City issues bulletins and news casters make announcements. The water is safe to drink, the water is perfectly fine. There is simply an overgrowth of zebra mussels, which affects the water’s taste but nothing more.

While zebra mussels are an invasive species that have fundamentally changed the nature of the lake, and while they do have life cycles that rise and fall, it is not the zebra mussels that change the taste of the water.

033 CTA

Thursday, December 3rd, 2009

It is somewhat surprising, perhaps, that despite the large number of deaths due to accident, murder, and suicide, that the CTA trains are not thickly haunted. Some theorize that the electrified third rail keeps spirits at bay, the live electricity having the same effect running water is said to have on supernatural entities.

Buses, however, are a different matter.

Henry Collins had the night route for the 92 Foster bus. It was a nice night, clear and calm, and ridership was low. He was heading westbound when he pulled over for someone waiting at Pulaski. The passenger boarded the bus, a girl “about 11 or 12 years old,” wearing a red pea coat, dark grey pleated skirt and knee socks, black shoes, and no hat. She laughed and dashed down the aisle, ignoring his “fare, miss.” and taking a seat at the back of the bus. Mr. Collins, a large man, stood up and went down the aisle after her. She startled visibly as he approached her, and to his utter amazement, vanished.

Although he kept his eyes open, Mr. Collins never saw his ghostly rider again on the Foster route.

032 Knock

Wednesday, December 2nd, 2009

The unseen preys most heavily on those who are alone: those who are alone for the night, and those who spend their lives alone. Prey animals are most vulnerable when separated from the rest of the herd, after all.

When alone, one might barely hear a soft knock at the door. The sound is so faint that one will pause and listen again. It is odd, how so faint a sound can carry through whatever else one is doing. The knock will come again, weak, slightly louder. There may be a compulsion to check the door, to check the lock, to check the chain. There may be a compulsion to open the door and see what brushes against it.

Do not open the door.

031 Dogs and Cats

Tuesday, December 1st, 2009

It is not common, on dark lonely nights, to see the family dog rise suddenly and advance towards an otherwise innocuous spot, hackles raised and growling. Perhaps it is a closet door, a closed door on an empty bedroom, a spot on the wall, the dining room. It is of the utmost importance to pay attention to these occurrences, and to act. Invite a priest into the home to cleanse and bless it. Keep the home well lit. Do not stay there alone, but invite loved ones to spend time with you.

Conversely, a cat acting the same way can safely be ignored.