FOR ETTA JAMES
All the good ones die, or get murdered. Jesus -- Murdered. Martin Luther King -- Murdered. John F. Kennedy -- Murdered. John Lennon -- Murdered. Malcom X -- Murdered. Ronald Reagan? Wounded.
The great Etta James has died. Her baby face and angel's voice are gone. The sun came up, the mail got delivered and life goes on -- but the world is at least one shade more gray. If her soaring, soulful rendering of I'd Rather Go Blind doesn't break your heart -- well, you don't have one. If At Last doesn't bring a sad, mournful smile to your face, then you've never been in love.
Miss Etta was the real thing. You know it when you hear it. It freezes you in your tracks and makes you stare at the radio. She was only like herself. Jamesetta Hawkins faced no small amount of turmoil in her 73 years -- addiction, obesity, poverty, and finally Alzheimer’s and leukemia. None of it could dim her 1,000-watt smile or her spine-tingling contralto. If you believed in the music of angels, Etta James was your evidence.
Winter has finally showed up in earnest in Chicago. Nine inches of snow fell, and again my fellow Chicagoans are running around with sparks shooting out of their asses, acting as if they've never seen the stuff before. Driving like retards, putting all manner of shit in the streets in the name of “dibs,” wherein, simply because you shoveled your own car out, you now take over ownership of that part of the street -- offering a basic “Fuck you” to your fellow citizens and taxpayers.
As for myself? I love when people put out folding chairs to reserve a parking space, ‘cause I always need folding chairs. Some people even put out “step stools,” which are another thing that, as an artist, I'm always needing. That said, I do like it when guys in service industry trucks just run this shit over. “Oh, was that your Lego table? Sorry -- maybe you shouldn't put shit in the street, asshole.”
It's also fun to watch the Ukrainians swing shovels at each other. Shoveling your walk in my neighborhood is a big deal; I have my assistants or a couple of wine-soaked Mexican dudes shovel mine, as well as the walk in front of the old Ukrainian lady's house down the street a bit. Some of the Ukies get pissed at me -- "Why you not shovel your own fucking stoop, Meester Beegshot?" Or "Why somebody else walking your dog, and cutting your grass?" "You too good for this job? Huh?"
I get this shit from Uli, who has lived here for 30 years and always shoveled his own walk. I tell him he’s right -- I'm way too good to be shoveling snow out there with the cabbage-eaters. Hell, somebody might see me and think I'm. . . Ukrainian!
Uli laughs and tells me I'd have to have a bigger dick to be Ukrainian. And the Irish? “They are hung like fucking cashews,” he laughs.
Uli is a funny motherfucker, one who is also not fond of people leaving stuff in the middle of the street. On occasion, he knocks back six or seven shots of Stoli and grabs his aluminum baseball bat and lays waste to some of the crap left out to hold parking spots. It’s funny as hell, because he shouts and swears while he is having batting practice -- and nobody tries to stop him.
I don't shovel snow for one reason: every year, the first time it snows heavily, all over the nation there are 50-year-old guys red as a monkey's ass, face-down in snow drifts -- dead like a fucking hammer from massive heart attacks.
No thanks, Bunky.
I want to die like my grandfather did -- peacefully, in his sleep, not screaming in terror, like his passengers.
It always fascinates me at the reaction. This is Chicago! We get an ass-load of snow every year, but people still drive like morons the first time the snow falls. Without fail, a senior citizen T-bones somebody at a stop sign, or drives up on the sidewalk and kills some poor asshole from East Bumfuck, because he or she confused the brake for the accelerator.
Inevitably, kids go “skeeching,” which is when you grab onto the bumper of a CTA or a school bus and slide down the street with it. This, actually, requires real balls. I've never done it. There are a myriad of ways to wind up fucked-up or dead from skeeching.
When I was in high school, there was a kid named Tony Rogles who was the most fearless skeecher I ever knew. He’d mosey up behind the bus and grab on, riding it a quarter-mile until it intersected a really busy intersection, where the pavement had been plowed and was therefore no good for skeeching. I remember he'd go skeeching by as I walked to the corner to hitchhike home. He'd have this crazy smile and a Kool cigarette hanging out the corner of his mouth. I don't remember another thing about Tony Rogles except this.
On winter days, he looked into the icy face of winter -- and spit in its mouth.
TONY FITZPATRICK is an artist from Chicago. For his blog, click here.