August in Chicago

There is nothing in the world hotter than August in Chicago. You walk a quarter mile at seven a.m. to the El station from your flat on Racine and you’re already pitting out. At noon the sun murders, multiplying its violence off the windows of the buildings and the street.

The angle of the light is excruciating. It’s not even fair to call it light. The sun is so hot it darkens the city. Everyone is looking down.

Loosen your tie but it’s no good. The heat waves warble off State Street creating a mirage. But there’s no oasis. No Bedouins. No palms. No tents. Only bedraggled human messes, concrete, steel, and taxi cabs.

On the train ride home it’s absolutely exorbitant, The train stops seemingly forever between North and Armitage, full of sweating half-pigs like you. The drops bead on the face of the man with a hat pulled low.

Your eyes meet a strange woman and she is exasperated in her discomfort. She seems that she is going to die. The train sits. Forever. It lurches forward and the you notice that the bar you are gripping is wet from your grip.

It must be a hundred and five in your flat. It’s not. But it must be! The windows are open and trains rush by, filling the space with the draft of their rush.

Alone, you’re naked in your kitchen. The beer from the fridge before you open it you roll it over your chest. It’s cold. You crack it and it beads half with condensation and half with the perspiration of you.

It’s August in Chicago. The sun is going down and with undetectable slowness so is the heat.

A siren wails blocks away.

But the beer is cold and the girl in the flat upstairs strums her guitar her voice soaring and falling and filling the space between the buildings and the walls.

Mourning the Queen

Rain outside

Our sheets are cool 

Her rising falling body warm

I coil along her royal beside—

Wither be a common storm

My eyes are wide

While she plays possum

The morning’s edge

The crown’s very pride

The empire’s valley glorious ridge

Deep and low under cover

I trace the curves

Of lucid dreams

Abreast of my queen lover—

Taste the best of her it seems

The rain whispers pardon

Finds me with a quickening eye

My kisses tell divine right truth—

Alive and dying in her ardor

I would please but cannot lie

Friday Great Lyrics #8 “Beyond Belief” — Elvis Costello

After I escaped my heavy metal phase of teenagerdom, one of the first real artists I began to appreciate as an adult was Elvis Costello. Born Declan McManus, Elvis, like many artists, apparently finds that he can create more authentically by a name different from that to which he was born.

Steven S. Wallace gets that.

I saw Elvis perform last winter. His voice, a big part of his sound, is a little rougher. (His hair is thin and he’s put on weight too. These things they happen!🤣) He did play perhaps his greatest song ballad “Allison” which draws so much of its power from his voice. I’ve never heard a cover of “Allison” that even comes close to EC in his prime.

His 2022 voice notwithstanding, the “Miracle Man” can still play. Mostly Elvis played a hard-rocking guitar driven show. I thought “I Don’t Want to Go to Chelsea” was his best number. Here’s a picture I snapped from seats eight rows back center stage at Murat Theatre.

This week’s Elvis Costello song is not “Allison” or another story song I might have chosen like “Watching the Detectives” or “Veronica” or “Every Day I Write the Book.

Instead, it is a bit of an obscure track … one he left off the set-list at Murat … a different kind of poetic masterwork … one that Elvis himself called a ‘nonsense song.’

Nonsense poetry and literature is a genre. Lewis Carroll of “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass” is probably the most preeminent author of nonsense literature. The movie Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory also comes to mind.

“A little nonsense now and then is relished by the wisest men.” — Willy Wonka.

I’ve written some nonsense poetry myself. Unintentional, but nonsense all the same!😂 Nonsense literature has some spiritual connection to psychedelia and the notion that truth may be revealed by hallucinations of sorts . . . seeing or saying something which is fanciful and unreal … but at the same time hyper-real.

Nevertheless, I think Elvis, to a certain degree is ‘talking down his own book’ to call this song nonsense. Something I read this week, from Ernest Hemingway’s “A Moveable Feast” and a chapter on F. Scott Fitzgerald prior to the “Great Gatsby” being published … Hemingway writes, “[t]o hear [Fitzgerald] talk of [“Gatsby”] you would never know how good it was except that he had the shyness about it that all non-conceited writers have what they have done something very fine.”

Great writers minimize their best work. “Beyond Belief” is a nonsense song? Fine, if you say so Elvis. But just because it’s nonsense don’t mean it don’t mean nuthin’!🤣

Beyond Belief” — Elvis Costello— 1982

History repeats the old conceits
The glib replies, the same defeats
Keep your finger on important issues
With crocodile tears and a pocketful of tissues

I’m just an oil slick
In a windup world with a nervous tick
In a very fashionable hovel

I hang around dying to be tortured
You’ll never be alone in the bone orchard
This battle with the bottle is nothing so novel

So in this almost empty gin palace
Through a two-way looking glass
You see your Alice

You know she has no sense
For all your jealousy
In a sense she still smiles very sweetly

Charged with insults and flattery
Her body moves with malice
Do you have to be so cruel to be callous?

And now you find you fit this identikit completely
You say you have no secrets
Then leave discreetly

I might make it California’s fault
Be locked in Geneva’s deepest vault
Just like the canals of Mars and the great barrier reef
I come to you beyond belief

My hands were clammy and cunning
She’s been suitably stunning
But I know there’s not a hope in Hades

All the laddies cat call and wolf whistle
So-called gentlemen and ladies
Dog fight like rose and thistle

I’ve got a feeling
I’m going to get a lot of grief
Once this seemed so appealing
Now I am beyond belief

I’ve got a feeling
I’m going to get a lot of grief
Once this seemed so appealing
Now I am beyond belief

I’ve got a feeling
I’m going to get a lot of grief
Once this seemed so appealing
Now I am beyond belief

I’ve got a feeling-

At 2:35, like many early EC tracks, the song is very short. But there’s a lot here!

Let’s start at the beginning . . . the title. The expression “beyond belief” is tinged with irony. It’s paradoxical. If something is beyond belief, it is truth to the point of being factually proven. Beyond belief is truth you can believe in! Fact. Not religion. On the other hand, if something is beyond belief, it is something we can never believe is true. So we’re off and running with the insightful nonsense!😂

“Keep your finger on important issues . . . With crocodile tears and a pocketful of tissues”…. I’ve never heard insincerity more poetically expressed. Once, I stole that in piece of professional writing. I was describing what I thought was an individual’s facile remorse. “His crocodile tears carry the weight of a pocketful of tissues,” I wrote. Thank you for that Elvis!😂

I’m just an oil slick. . . In a windup world with a nervous tick . . . In a very fashionable hovel. To me it’s phoniness. Simmering but not boiling hostility in an illustrious couple. The voice and “Alice” are “glib” and conceited. Well off … but unhappy and defeated. The narrator is a mess — just an oil slick — going through the wind up motions and getting increasingly neurotic and nervous . . . hanging around dying to be tortured . . . drinking like a cliche.

Dying to be tortured — such an ironic turn of phrase. “I’m dying to see you!” “That cake is to die for.” “I just died in your arms tonight.” How can dying be a good thing? Often it is when we speak … as an idiom. But here, our narrator is dying to be tortured. That’s just insanity. But he’s going to keep doing whatever. “History repeats . . . the same defeats!” The very definition!

Like Alice in Wonderland, there’s a lot of angst in these sing-songy lyrics. “Beyond Belief” owes a debt to Lewis Carroll and “Alice” and “The Looking Glass.” So in this almost empty gin palace . . . Through a two-way looking glass . . . You see your Alice. But its an homage and not a rip off. My sense is that the Alice of “Beyond Belief” is not at all as charming as Lewis Carroll’s.😳

“If you drink much from a bottle marked ‘poison’ it is certain to disagree with you sooner or later.” — Alice

You know she has no sense . . . For all your jealousy . . . In a sense she still smiles very sweetly. Every line just drips like a water torture. I can picture a dialogue with the narrator and a friend.

“Your lady Alice . . . she sure has such a sweet smile!”

“Yes . . . in a sense she does.”

Sarcasm being the protest of the weak, is “Beyond Belief” a mean song? A sarcastic song? It could be, but maybe it’s more of a rueful and perceptive one. I choose to think so. Certainly Mr. Costello shreds shallowness. But the song is so clever in its turn of phrase and the use of paradox and nonsense as to be charming. “Beyond Belief” is beyond interesting. 😂

Anyway . . . . I think I’ve said enough here. I could go on. I just love this poem/song. But I think I’ll stop and drop the video here. I used a recorded version. I didn’t like any live versions I found as much. And, there’s a a cool vocal effect like singing through a bullhorn at “I might make it California’s fault.” Hope you enjoy. It’ll be beyond belief if you don’t!😂

“Beyond Belief”

Visionary

Fingertip touch her dress airy

Breathing sweet honey in my ear

Angel glows in my room very

Inhaling every word I hear

Her cat tongue in my eye tonight

Her fragrance lays me on the hour

I see her talking glowing white

A visionary growing power

Barbara Stanwyck in Double Indemnity

++++

Gentlemen and Lady Readers:

This is a dizain. It has 8-10 syllables a line and a rhyme scheme of a/b/a/b then c/d/c/d. I’m submitting it for Skeptics Kaddish weekly challenge. This challenge including the form requirements is required to be from the pov of one experiencing synesthesia. https://skepticskaddish.com/2022/09/21/w3-prompt-21-weave-written-weekly/. I don’t have a lot of experience with tasting colors, but that didn’t stop me! 😂 Click on and write a dizain to compete. Please though, no wagering!

— SSW

Love, and all that

It was just me alone on that island in the peaceful South Pacific. How I got there? Is it really all that important? I fell out of a FedEx plane. Suffice it to say I was living on an island in the South Pacific that no one knew about.

Sometimes I’d lay flat on my back on the rock by the lagoon and look up at the sky at night.  You wouldn’t believe how dark it was and bright at the same time.  When the Moon was new, the Milky Way would spill across the sky and I’d watch it turn over my head wondering if anyone would ever come to rescue me.  Every now and then on those darkest of nights I would catch a glimpse of a meteor shower.  A shooting star.  

The shooting stars reminded me of home.  I’d think back to Marta and years ago on the Fourth of July, drinking peach schnapps and smoking cigarettes.  We always bantered back and forth, Marta and me.  She said I was the one who could always make her laugh.  

She was the one who understood me.

Sometimes she would call me late at night.  “I’m bored, Steve.”

“It’s after midnight Marta.”

“I don’t care.  Come out to me.  Meet me in the park in fifteen.”

So I would.  She spread a blanket out under the stars and I would lay by her side and Marta would tell me things about her life and whatever was on her mind.

“I’m gonna rest my head on your chest, Steven.  Put your arm around me.”

I did as she asked.

“This is how you sleep with a girl, Steven.  Just like this.  So she can rest her head nice.”

She was quiet.  The radio played.  Then she spoke.

“I love you, Steven … and all that.”

I never asked her what she meant.

+++

It was so far away on that island to think about Marta.  I was by myself alone.  Sometimes I would think that I was seeing her face up in the heavens.  She had a way of laughing and smiling when she poked me.  I would see her laughing smiling face in the sky … until a star would shoot across the darkness and bring me to my island in the South Sea.  

The nights were long and when I was able during the day to find enough food on the island and fish in the lagoon so that I wasn’t starving from hunger when I went to sleep, I would dream about being home … with Marta.

I woke one morning my eyes blinking in the tropical morning sun.  The tides had washed the usual trash and driftwood and detritus on my deserted beach.  But this day there was something different.  A bottle with a cork in it. 

I picked up the bottle and examined it. There was a piece of paper inside. I put my finger inside the bottle but I couldn’t retrieve the note. I took the bottle over to a piece of volcanic rock and broke the bottle. The green glass fractured on the rocks and glinted in the sun. Carefully, I picked up the note out of the shattered shards and unraveled it.

Dear Steven:

I hope this message finds you well.  Life has never been the same since you left Kentucky for your island paradise.  I hope you found the peace you wanted.

I’ve moved on from us, Steven.  I guess that’s obvious, right?  At one time I didn’t think I ever could.  But time as well as distance is an amazing thing.  

I’ve moved on, but I’ve not forgotten you.  I know you’ve moved on too.  At least I think you must’ve.  You’re on a damn island, for crying out loud.  But I hope you remember me.  As I watch you on that island of yours, I wish there was more I could do for you.

Love, and all that,

Marta

And on the Eighth Day…

It’s mid September and the boy and I are taking in a game of baseball.

The Indianapolis Indians (AAA affiliates of the Pittsburgh Pirates) are playing the Toledo Mud Hens (Detroit Tigers). The Mud Hens are Corporal Klinger’s team.

Mud Hens scored two in the first on a dropped fly ball with two outs and runners on second and third.🫤 Triple A baseball is very good. The one thing you’ll notice if you have a discerning eye compared to the big leagues is a few more errors on plays that should be made. Other than that, very little difference.

The air has a touch of fall cool. It’s fan appreciation night and the park is pleasantly crowded but not packed. I’m wearing my Aaron Judge jersey. A guy in a Derek Jeter jersey calls me out, “All rise!”

“My brother!” I call back.

A two run homer in the bottom of the first ties the game.

A Mud Hen named Corey Joyce hitting .750 (probably up from double A and has three hits in four at bats) just drove a ball off the JW Marriott across the street of the left field fence. Maybe keep an eye on him. 4-2 Mud Hens.

Nobody is unhappy here tonight.

A Mud Hen just grounded into a shift. Don’t even get me started on the shift!

An Indian just attempted to bunt for a hit. Dale hates bunting.

“Why do you hate bunting, Dale?”

“Nobody bunts, Daddy.”

“A good bunt can be really helpful, Dale. You can advance a runner. You can get a base hit.”

“Daddy, only a nobody bunts.”

The next batter hit a double down the right field line. Doubles in some sense are better than home runs. The speed of the runner. The throw from outfield to second. The cathartic relief of the runner sliding ahead of the tag. Doubles rock! Especially when the next batter drives him with a line drive single. Which just happened. Mud Hens 4 Indians 3.

Minor leaguers are kids. Children practically. The batter who just flew out was 6’2” and maybe 160 lbs. Is he old enough to drink the Miller Lite I’m drinking? I don’t know.

After a lot of offense the game is settling in. Two three up three down innings.

Mud Hens put one up in the 4th and one in the fifth. 6-3.

Fun fact, MILB has a clock on the pitchers. This is a good development. The era of the 5 hour Red Sox – Yankee game must end. How else to do that but to train up and coming pitchers?

In his novel “Ragtime,” E.L. Doctorow writes about baseball at the dawn of the twentieth century. A child in the novel likes baseball and his father who grew up before it became popular doesn’t understand why.

I paraphrase…

“Why do you like this game so much, son?”

“The pitcher tries to fool the batter. The batter tries to fool the pitcher.”

Just as simple as that.

On a Georgia Morning

On a Georgia morning,

October aught five, 

Mist hovers over the valley 

And covers the home

Where you lie sleeping

Windows open

Permanent Jewel

My darling Jewel … energy star!

Gravity this body undressed

Icarus wingless fell fast hard

While you burned on just like the best

+++

Around I go and round and round 

Your force compels me to evolve 

Can barely keep my feet on ground

This spinning world where I revolve

+++

Upon this earthly forest floor 

Of scattered fallen limbs of time

I am feeling your heat and warmth —

But glimpse just spots of light sublime

+++

I would climb the forest’s tallest

Draw close and near your firmament —

Would you … shining … pull me honest

Through sky and clouds to permanence

Friday Great Lyrics #7 — “Dry Town” — Gillian Welch (with Dave Rawlings)

After last week’s heavy-ass shit from John Prine, I decided that what Friday Great Lyrics Nation needed (and what, frankly, I needed after a heavy-ass shit week of my own) was a good, light and funny sorbet — but one which keeps with the theme of telling stories. “Dry Town” is perfect for this dry week at the end of summer … on a Friday when I am most assuredly looking forward to a cold Miller High Life at the end of the day!🤣🍺

Miranda Lambert recorded “Dry Town” in 2007. Quite honestly, her version bugs. Nothing against Miranda Lambert! She’s a big stadium country act and a whole lotta fun I suppose … [he said throwing just a faint amount of shade] … but the wrong artist for the song. Sometimes covering artists do it better than the original songwriter … and sometimes they don’t.🤣

Dry Town,” ironically, is originally by folk-outlaw darlings Gillian Welch and her artistic partner Dave Rawlings. They’re outlaws, but they’re thinking person’s outlaws!🤣 For real, they are great and and more than a little serious about what they do. An exemplary track by Rawlings with Welch doing back up called “Short-Haired Woman Blues” is worth visiting. “Bodysnatchers” too. Another phenomenal song.

Gilliam Welch and Dave Rawlings

I digress.

Serious artist though she is, I just don’t think Gillian Welch could resist recording this light-hearted gem and putting it out as a so-called “demo.” Just because lyrics are fun doesn’t mean they’re not great.

Dry Town

[Verse 1]

Well, the road was hot and flat as a ruler
Good hundred miles between me and Missoula
That vinyl top wasn’t getting’ no cooler
So I stopped at a quickie sack

Figured I’d need about a six of Miller
And one of those things so I wouldn’t spill her
I asked the girl if the beer was in the back
She said

[Chorus]

“It’s a dry town
No beer, no liquor for miles around
I’d give a nickel for a sip or two
To wash me down
Outta this dry town”

[Verse 2]

So I turn right around, no hesitation
Cursed the law for ruinin’ the nation
Waved goodbye to the boy at the station
But she wouldn’t go into gear
He said it sounds like your transmission
You need Bob, but he’s gone fishin’
His day off, he gets a long way from here

[Chorus]

‘Cause it’s a dry town
No beer, no liquor for miles around
I’d give a nickel for a sip or two
To wash me down
Outta this dry town

[Verse 3]

Back home friends you can get a dose of
Something strong from your local grocer
So I walked down ’till I got closer
To a place called Happy Johns

[Bridge]

He said, “I keep some for colds and fevers
Down underneath where I usually leave her
Just last night, I felt a cold coming on”

[Chorus]

Now it’s a dry town
No beer, no liquor for miles around
I’d give a nickel for a sip or two
To wash me down
Outta this dry town
I need a sip or two
To wash me down
Outta this dry town

So, this is just nothing but pure fun … AND a lyrical masterpiece. The rhythm and rhyme is just perfect. It really jumps along … like a frog on a frolic. No need to overanalyze these lyrics. The words just sound great together. Internally in the verses and at the end of the lines. Feels like it just wrote itself.

I ought not overanalyze … but I will!🤣 (Why else do you come to Friday Great Lyrics?!)🤣😂🤣 There is a kernel of seriousness in this song. (It is Gillian Welch and Dave Rawlings after all.) I find it in the clerk’s words.

What is a “dry town?” It’s not so much about the unavailability of legal alcohol to purchase. It’s about being stuck. And bored! And stagnant!! Stuck in a place that’s dry with no idea how to get unstuck. Dryness is deadness. Frustration. A dry town is a place where things don’t happen. Things don’t grow in desiccated conditions! And when you’re in a dry town … at least until Bob fixes your transmission … you’ve just got to try to laugh and make the best of it. That’s what I think is so charming about this song … having been stuck in a few metaphorical dry towns myself … the laughter.

I usually throw a video in as an after thought without much comment. But if you’ve made it this far, this video of Welch’s 2016 release is tremendous. It features a vinyl top 1973 Buick Riviera which won the automotive award for best car ever! How tremendous is that?!🤣

Here’s Gillian Welch’s official “promotional video” of “Dry Town.”

Nice Shoes

When I was young, I got a job in the training program of a commercial bank in Chicago. It was a bank whose niche was lending to middle-market companies. Businesses that then did a million dollars in sales up to . . . I don’t know . . . fifteen maybe twenty million?

We had a television commercial about a button company that was a customer. Little company that made buttons for clothing. The owner of the company talked about his family and his business and the families of the people that worked for him and how the Bank made it possible for his company to manufacture buttons … to have a business … to live modestly prosperously … to employ workers who spent careers at the button company.

“They’re just buttons, but they hold a lot more than just clothes together … I like to think,” said a smiling fifty-something CEO patriarch.

His father had started the company thirty years before. We were his company’s bank then and we were still now. That was our story. It was a good story. It was a proud story. That we didn’t actually have a button company client and that the CEO was an actor was beside the point! It was a narrative … like professional wrestling. Not fake! Fiction? Fair enough. But not fake.

When companies got big enough, too big for us, they moved up to larger banks . . . which sometimes meant the parent who owned us. But bankers at my bank liked their business. If you lent money to these types of customers, you got to travel all over Chicagoland, dropping in on little manufacturing concerns. You played golf. Went to the Arlington Race Track … Ravinia … White Sox games. You had lunches. Dinners. It was fun. And these were great companies and people to do business with.

For example, the bank had a real customer that made printing presses . . . the sort you could print an advertising insert for a newspaper or maybe the paper itself. These presses cost then about seven million dollars. The company sold maybe three or four a year. Plus they’d service what they had sold before. It was a nice company. We covered operating costs with short-term credit. When they sold a press they paid us back with interest. The company had very good margins. That interest the bank received was ultimately on other people’s money… so our margins were good too. It was a square deal.

We went on a social call to … Saginaw Press I’ll call it … and the banker with the primary relationship responsibility brought me along to . . . I don’t know . . . learn I guess. I asked the controller of Saginaw, a regular guy with a mustache, if the factory worked a nightshift. He laughed at me. So did my boss. I never understood what was so stupid about that question. Anyway, when you’re a kid, you get laughed at sometimes. I shrugged it off. Looking back, I wonder what happened to that Saginaw Press in the era of digital direct marketing?! I hope they invested their profits in FaceBook. Saginaw is probably out of business onaccounta internet kids.

So it goes.

It’s hard to be young and working when everyone seems so much beyond you. My boss was thirty. The CFO of the printing press company was probably forty. We were all kids, but they seemed exponentially more experienced from my twenty-two years of perspective. Still, a middle market bank in Chicago in the early nineties was a good place to be young. Business was good. You got to hang around at happy hour drinking beers and playing liar’s poker.

Long time ago.

+++

The patriarch of the bank where I worked was this really old guy . . . he seemed old . . . he was probably … pick a number … fifty-two!! He lived in a condominium on Michigan Avenue with a foxy younger second wife on the Lincoln Park Zoo board. John Q. McNamara . . . JQM . . . he was always dressed well and always, always, always had his shoes shined. And, he had nice shoes.

JQM was on a first name basis with most of the bank’s best customers.  He knew everybody.  If you were the relationship manager and something wasn’t going well with your customer you were liable to get a note on little bank stationary.  “Jimmy T at XYZ Corp. called.  See me!  JQM.”  You didn’t want that . . . because you were about to get set straight and re-educated on the importance of . . . let’s just say . . . a positive attitude. 

The Bank lost some money in the recession of 1990. Some customers couldn’t repay their loans. JQM’s bank was owned by the bigger parent bank and when his “little cowboy operation” lost some money big brother parent bank . . . who was plenty good at losing money itself . . . came down hard and started putting strictures on the business. JQM didn’t like that. But he held on, and 1992, when I got there, things were getting better.

Now in those days, you could get a shoe-shine about every two hundred feet in downtown Chicago. And it was cheap too. Two bucks. Which really meant that it was four bucks. The rule of thumb, if you weren’t a cheapskate, was two for the shop, two for the man. Still cheap. I think JQM got a shine every day. Those guys, Haitians and Jamaicans mostly, who shined shoes worked their asses off because there were plenty of gunners like me getting shines. Spit on the shoe and whipping that cloth around. Man they worked. Bet they were sore the next morning. And then to do it again and again every day. When they were finished, they’d give a little tap on the cap. It was always amazing to me how the shoe would shine. You could see yourself looking back at you. “Dere you go mon.”

“Nice job, man. They look good.”

“Nice leather always come back, mon.” They loved Johnny QM, because he was good for two plus a five-spot.

Side note … years later I got my shoes shined in a hotel lobby at a professional conference I was attending. Someone told me it was “a bad look” to have my shoes shined. Exploitative of labor she seemed to suggest. I guess she thought that I could do the masses more good if I didn’t pay one of them to shine my shoes. I had given the gentleman who’d done a really good job a ten dollar tip! I didn’t say much in response. She was senior to me and I thought it best not to argue … or bring up her manicure or any other such point.

Instead, I thought about what JQM might’ve said. It made me smile. And besides, unlike most of my colleagues neglected, scuffed and dull shoes, mine looked good!

“Nice leather always come back, mon.”

+++

My grandfather, an old-time Chicago loop commuter in the Department of Agriculture was no entrepreneur… but he was of the JQM school when it came to shoes. The week before I was to start at the bank job in Chicago Grandpa sent me to Chernin’s on Cermak. Chernin’s was the place to get a good deal on shoes. He said, “You go pick out a pair of shoes. Pick a good pair. I’ll pay.”

So I went and picked out a pair of Allen Edmonds black wing-tips. Now, these were nice shoes. Good as you could get. They cost $225.00, which, in 1992 was a lot of money. I told my Grandpa the amount of the bill he had promised to pay and he gulped a bit but said, “Good job.” He went upstairs to his bedroom and returned with three crisp C-notes all in sequence and said, “keep it.”

“Thank you.”

He went on, “You want nice shoes. Forget about suits and shirts and ties. I don’t mean go deliberately cheap,” he said. “Buy what you can afford, but don’t fuck around when it comes to your shoes.”

“Alright,” I said, reflecting for a moment on the fact that in my twenty-two years of life, I had never heard Grandpa say ‘fuck’ before.  I guess I was a grown-up now.

He went on. “Years ago, Nicholas, I was walking down State Street one afternoon. There was a woman walking towards me. We get close . . . and the street is crowded . . . and all of the sudden she stops me . . . me . . . this was a good-looking woman . . . beautiful young woman. She was lost. She asked me for directions. I gave her directions . . . I told her where to go . . . but then it occurs to me . . . as she starts on her way, I stopped her. I said, ‘You mind if I ask why you stopped me to ask for directions? You could’ve asked anyone.’ You know what she said?”

“No,” I said.

“’It was your shoes,’ she said.  ‘My mother told me that if I ever got lost or was in trouble in the city, I should keep my head down until I saw a man with nice shoes.’”

“Uh huh!” I said.

“Uh huh, is right,” said Grandpa. “Don’t go cheap on your shoes, Nicky.” He cupped my face with a gentle slap … Vito Corleone style.

+++

The first two days of training we heard a lot about how easy it was to make bad loans and lose money. I was scared! I was surely about to drive my new employer into bankruptcy. This was my third day at the bank, and my head was spinning and I’d worn my shoes every day on the subway and on the street. My new Allen Edmonds had a scuff or two and their luster was down. That third day us newbies were to meet … the Man. JQM came to speak to the group of new trainees – twenty-two year-old would be middle-market bankers. Cowboys of capitalism.

“I’m glad you’re all here,” said JQM standing in the center of the circle of us all.  “I hope you’re all intelligent.  I’m sure most of you are.”  There was a little laughter.

He turned serious.  “I hope you want to work hard . . . but most of all, I hope you’re not scared, because if you are . . . you’re in the wrong place.  I hope you’re not here to say no.  Because we don’t want that.” 

He looked at a sour-faced man in a wrinkled suit standing outside the circle along the wall with his arms folded.

“Right Stevie?” Stevie, or Steve, I later learned he was was the Chief Credit Officer sent by the “big bank” to supervise our “little one” whose job was to say no, stared on stone-faced.

JQM smiled to himself a little and continued.

“I don’t want that. I don’t want people saying no. ‘No. No! Nyet!! Nein!!!’ Easiest word in any language to say is ‘no.’

The older bankers in the room who adored JQM snickered.

He went on. “The people who make money for this bank…” said JQM resting his gaze again back on ‘Stevie Credit’ and pausing for a moment for oratorical effect “… the people here … in this room … who actually make money for this place … don’t want no-birds. You’re going to run in negative people here . . . some. . . its unfortunate but it’s true. But we’re here to say yes. Never forget that. We’re here to say JAWOHL!!!”

The room laughed.

“We’re here to make loans. We don’t lend money, we don’t make money. Not here to say no. Because when we make loans, business happens. People make money.”

JQM studied the faces of the “children” in the circle then looked again at the man from the big bank. “Every now and again we make a mistake. When we do, that’s when certain people are going to tell you that you’re shit. No matter how much money you’ve made before the one bad loan, they’ll tell you that. That’s fine. I don’t really care. I don’t care if you make mistakes. If you’re doing what you need to do to make money sooner or later you’re gonna fuck up. It happens. I’m not going to lie. But remember this – it’s not shit, until it turns into shit.

JQM stopped talking. He studied the young faces in the room. We all looked around. Then JQM looked at me and then down at my Allen Edmonds . . . a duller version of the same reflecting pair he was wearing.

“What’s your name, kid?”

I gulped. “Nick … Nick Adams, sir!

“It’s great to have you here… are you glad to be here?”

Jawohl?”

This made everyone laugh. JQM wagged his index finger in a way that wasn’t mean at all at and looked around the room grinning at everyone standing. His smiling but stunned silence lasted only a second.

“Nice shoes, Nick Adams. Get ‘em shined.”

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Dear Readers

I’ve revisited this story. Added a lot subtracted a little. I’m pretty happy w how it’s coming together. Seems to fit w some other work I’ve done. Nick Adams is an homage to my hero Ernest Hemingway and his Nick Adams stories. If this continues to build and maybe link up with other work, I’ll probably change the name. Hope it’s not distracting to the reader who recognizes the name.

Well, back to real work!!! Hope you enjoyed “Nice Shoes” as revised.

— SSW

Allen Edmonds Wingtip
($225 in 1992 … $425 in 2022)