#386: The White Monster

October 15th, 2014

A page at night is a terrible thing. A vile, grasping, chalk-white monster claiming your sleep, time and sense of confidence.

I have ideas swirling for stories. I never ate at Hot Doug’s or got my feet measured at Altman’s, both mainstays now closed or closing. I meant to do both, but never got around to them. Maybe I could write a nuanced reflection on opportunity cost on a somber, rainy night.

The white monster won’t claim that story. Something in its makeup won’t stick. Moving on.

I got a shave the other day. Full shave with hot towels and lather and a straight-edge razor wielded by a licensed barber skritch skritch skritching the hair off my face. It was at a deliberately trendy “punk” barbershop, you know the type. Tattooed rockabilly cosmetologists charging juuuust too much to get a clipper trim amid in-store rock music and walls plastered with CBGB flier reprints.

My barber – you have to be a licensed barber to shave someone’s face with a straight razor, he said – was wearing a Matt Forté jersey and tried to strike up a conversation about the Bears. I couldn’t follow.

I reclined and let him apply hot towel after hot towel as I tried to think deep, meaningful thoughts about life, manliness, self-image and rockabilly.

That might have been a good story, but I really couldn’t stop thinking about that Opera-themed Bugs Bunny where he tricked Elmer Fudd into the barber chair and sliced him up proper.

Glad to say my shave was excellent, but “Rabbit of Seville” (1952) ruined that as a story too.

Maybe the monster would let me sleep if I fed it some history. I’ve done that before – the Elevator Demon, Columbia Wheelmen, my century-too-late vendetta against volunteer urban planner Edward Paul Brennan (1866-1942).

I’ve got some good ones I’m working on. There’s Daniel O’Leary, the 1860s “Champion Pedestrian of the World.” And I own a 1970s restaurant guide that talks about how notorious bro-hub frat boy bar John Barleycorn once offered hamburgers for $2.05 and “Mixed highbrow media – art slides, classical music, and silent movies.”

But I would at least want to see if I could get the 1800s biographical pamphlet on O’Leary WorldCatted up from Tulane to the college where I teach. And I really want to find someone who remembers when Barleycorn was an arthouse joint.

Does it want a profile? I’ve got interviews with a trapeze artist, a storyteller and a burlesque dancer ready to go. The illustrator’s working on those, though. And I still have to set a time to meet with the guy who secretly carved a mermaid on the beach. I’m meeting the derby girl Friday. No go there.

So that’s why it’s night and I’m up with the glaring white monster known as an empty page.

The monster feeds on stories and shame, filling its gut on the latter when the former runs dry. It’s not the worst thing in the world, sitting on my comfortable couch in my snug apartment, listening to the rain fall as I work on my completely optional blog no one is making me do.

So that’s my story. That’s my image of Chicago I want to leave you with for this one of 1,001. Across this city, across this world, there are people trying to capture the real world to feed it to a monster.

Writers, reporters, poets, bloggers, comedians, anyone who tries to take this world of professional pedestrians, rockabilly cosmetologists, carved mermaids and Hot Doug’s encased meats and turn it into something that’s real and true.

Something that can fill an empty page on a somber, rainy night.

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