Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Chicago: City On The Make by Nelsen Algren, 1951

From the chapter, "Love Is For Barflies"....

"Before you earn the right to rap any sort of joint, you
have to love it a little while. You have to belong to
Chicago like a crosstown transfer out of the Armitage
Avenue barns first; and you can't rap it then just because
you've been crosstown.

Yet if you've tried New York for size and put in a stint in
Paris, lived long enough in New Orleans to get the feel of
the docks and belonged to old Marselle awhile, if the
streets of Naples have warmed you and those of London
have chilled you, if you've seen the terrible green-grey
African light moving low over the Sahara or even passed
hurriedly through Cincinnati-then Chicago is your boy at
last and you can say it and make it stick:

That it's a backstreet, backslum loudmouth whose
challenges go ringing 'round the world like any green
punk's around any neighborhood bar where the mellower
barflies make the allowances of older men: "The punk is
just quackin' 'cause his knees is shakin' again."

"What's the percentage?" the punk demands like he really
has a right to know. "Who's the fix on this corner?"

A town with many ways of fixing its corners as well as its
boulevards, some secret and some wide open. A town of
many angry sayings, some loud and some soft; some out
of the corner of the mouth and some straight off the

"You make rifles," the Hoosier fireman told ten thousand
workingmen massed at a Socialist picnic here, "and are
always at the wrong end of them."

"Show me an honest man and I'll show you a damned fool"
the president of the Junior Steamfitters' League told the
visiting president of the Epworth League.

"I don't believe in Democracy." the clown from the
National Association of Real Estate Boards reassured his
fellow clowns. "I think it stinks."

"I'll take all I can get," the blind panhandler added, quietly
yet distinctly, in the Madison Street half-way house.

"You can get arrested in Chicago for walking down the
street with another man's wife," the cops forewarn the
out-of-town hustler smugly.

"I despise your order, your law, your force-propped
authority," the twenty-two-year-old defied the
remaindered judge. "Hang me for it."

And the strange question inscribed for posterity on every
dark, drawn shade of the many-roomed brothel that once
stood on Wells and Monroe, asked simply:



mister anchovy said...

that sounds like a great book!

Gardenia said...

What delightful writing!

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