#735: He Vapes at Midnight

January 6th, 2017

It was a mild, cold spatter of a winter rain, the type not harsh enough to keep you inside. It puts you on the streets — out, cold and miserable.

The stores were bright and fragile-looking, casting glances out the window, reverse shadows turned whirly rainbows reflected in the thin layer of oil slick city streets only show in the rain.

He held her in his arms.

He kissed her comfortingly, assuagingly. He put his hand on her cheek whenever she tried to bury her face in his scarf, gently raise her head for one more kiss, one more comfort in the rain and oil.

I heard a light sob as I walked past, trudging into the cold spatter and darkened streets.

Who says there’s no noir in the world?

A friend of mine is planning a modern noir novel. I’m giving away no details, but what started as a joking conversation between us about a millennial detective agency — quick-hit jabs with pulpy titles like “He Vapes at Midnight” and “Her Preferred Pronouns are… DEATH” — evolved into what promises to be a dark, funny, touching look at youth culture and modern crime.

But is noir still relevant? We’re in the era of exposure, not secrets. It’s not the era where sex, death, love and money are hidden down dark alleys and in hidden flops. The sins a Sam Spade or Nora Charles would root out in ‘40s fiction would be broadcast loud and open online.

Noir is drama in the darkness. Humphrey Bogart tracking a black bird. Barbara Stanwyck getting a phone call she can’t unhear. Henry Fonda screaming to deaf ears that he is the wrong man.

Can this happen in our bright, gaudy, tacky world?

A powerful man wouldn’t kill to hide a mistress. He’d Facebook Live an apology to his wife and ask for a nation’s thoughts and prayers. Faced with scandal dug up by an inkstained newsman, the politician wouldn’t crumble. He’d just yell “WRONG!” at a debate and tweet that the reporter’s a loser.

The hidden speakeasy siren would brag about her 50,000 Instagram followers and how the Kickstarter’s going for her adult coloring book.

But then there’s that kiss in the cold winter rain.

The man was a middle-aged Asian man with thick glasses and hair that poofed each which way, so as a romantic lead, he doesn’t fit the tropes of the racist noir era. And the light swirling into rainbows on the oily streets was coming from a Walgreens on a ritzy strip of a ritzy North Side shopping district.

But a kiss in the darkness, a sob as a lonely walker trudges by, a romantic lead and a woman whose pain he can’t reach?

Sounds pretty noir to me.

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You are currently reading #735: He Vapes at Midnight by Paul Dailing at 1,001 Chicago Afternoons.

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