Ain’t No Cure for My Chicagoland Blues (Thank God)


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I know the moon is troubling.

Its pale eloquence is always such a meddling,
Intrusive lie. I know the pearl sheen of the sheets
Remains the screen I’ll draw back against the night;

I know all of these silences invented for me approximate
Those real silences I cannot lose to daylight …
I know the orchid smell of your skin

The way I know the blackened path to the marina,
When gathering clouds obscure the summer moon —
Just as I know the chambered heart where I begin.

I know the lacquered jewel box, its obsidian,
The sexual trumpeting of the diving, sweeping loons …
I know the slow combinations of the night, & the glow

Of fireflies, deepening the shadows of all I do not know.

— David St. John, “I Know”
from Merlin: New Poems

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Chicagoland Speedway.

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Writin’ about racin’ for me is a challenge. I’m not a lifelong fan where experience gushes from a point-ruptured vent. There’s a lot about each track and its history I have to bone up on. Without the Internet, I probably wouldn’t even bother. I mean, I got into the theme supporting a blog which features the writings of a genuine motorsports reporter. The Internet also provides easy access to stuff on racin’ I can quickly bone up on; Wikipedia is great and Google quickly yields sources (and pictures) which fill in the theme. There’s always NASCAR’s website and Jayski and RacingReference.com to help with the verities.

A challenge, but an addictive one. I learn a lot along the way, and out of what I find in the official sources of fact  I get enough bones to put together a skeleton, upon which I tissue and organ and flesh out with stuff I know more about – history and mystery, politics and poetics, sex and drugs and rock ‘n’ roll.

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Chicagoland Speedway, Ovalscreamed.

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The resulting creature, however, resembles less and less each time I take a crack at it of the sort high-octane beast which racin’ enthusiasts can readily take to. Imagine a dude with an elephant’s snout sticking out of his helmet and octopus tentacles grasping the steering wheel while getting sucked off by a half-woman, half-rhino, that enormous iron ass up in the air while this theriomorphic track hottie does her salivating business out of sight down below. Entertaining, yes, informing too—a cognition and rhetoric of a certain league offshore dry sensibility–but purists park and head for the exits, in search of posts more in accordance with their informed passions.

Hey you want that, go visit NASCAR This Week, which I edit but don’t write a lick of. All that’s handled by Monte Dutton, someone who’s known racin’ a long, long time. There you’ll get what I can’t provide – an informed opinion, which is like knowing something about thermondynamics on order to have something really useful to say about the Gulf oil disaster now in its third month.

But hey, it’s a free country, right? And so on this Fourth of July, 2010, I declare my usual independence from sensible writin’ about racin’ and find myself in a strange, strange place, looking ahead to the Chicagoland race with a wintry blues from my past raking the spaces between my words as I write them, the way winds blew off Lake Michigan and cut my huddled 17-year-old figure as I walked home from school through Chicago’s New Town some 35 years ago.

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All I don’t know is poised equally against all I think I know—remember, at least.

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O.K. So Billy Paul’s “Me and Mrs. Jones” is playing in my head as I lean into a wind which cut my tiny soul back then with grey urban finalities – an old, lonely, beat-up, abused city vibe suffused with the hardtack hues of an endlessly downward gradient. Pipe in here Billy Paul singing those ghetto blues, about a wrong, like booze, which makes you feel all right:

Me and Mrs. Jones
We got a thing goin’on
We both know that it’s wrong
But it’s much too strong
To let it go now

We meet every day at the same cafe
Six-thirty and no one knows she’ll be there
Holding hands, making all kinds of plans
While the juke box plays our favorite songs

No hope in that January afternoon as I walked back to a house I know was soon to explode to the facts of divorce, sending my mother and sister and now-dead younger brother to Florida, my father to New York City, my older brother to California and me to Spokane in Washington state to attend college.

No hope then, not much today, as I watch my industry crumble, our mortgage slip under water, my body blistering and peeling in a dozen places from the road it’s been walking since 1974, the country’s economy lapsing toward depression, its politics irrevocably split, technology’s toys driving the communitas to the landfill where it is unceremoniously dumped with hands of white noise, and the ill affects of poisoning the Gulf of Mexico with spilled oil like a orchid waiting to come to full bloom in our ecological night.

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We gotta be extra careful
That do we don’t build our hopes up too high
Because she’s got her own obligations
And so, and so, do I

Me and Mrs. Jones
We got a thing goin’on
We both know that it’s wrong
But it’s much too strong
To let it go now

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No hope then or now, but “Me and Mrs. Jones” washes it all with buttery bittersweetness, sinful and soul-salvaging at the same time. And that song is here too, today, in the stormy tide of this grey afternoon in July, more rain on the way, another afternoon soak, intensifying the heat and humidity into something so distant from that freezing January late afternoon as to round this heart and greet it from other side, past and present extremes linked by their extremity, like two lovers who are so totally wrong for each other that their lovemaking is solar-hot and lunar-blue, their rapture netting everything between the distant stars and the deep blue sea. Sweetness in this moment like the brief liaison of the illicit pair in “Me and Mrs. Jones” with its hard, hard parting bringing the song, the soiree, the rebellious dance  to its end:

Well, it’s time for us to be leaving
It hurts so much, it hurts so much inside
Now she’ll go her way snd I’ll go mine
Tomorrow we’ll meet
The same place, the same time

Me and Mrs. Jones
We got a thing goin’on
We both know that it’s wrong
But it’s much too strong
To let it go now

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Billy Paul sings my Chicago blues.

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Oh, the things we sing to ourselves, trying to keep our hopes buoyed to a better day. It’s almost a defiance, you know? Holding on to beliefs which float free of any knowledge, any assurance, that things are not spinning down the drain. And who cares if it’s a lie? The alternative of staring the future directly in the face is one we aren’t well equipped for as a species. Thus we go whistling down the primrose path, perky and oblivious of the jaws which spread wide for us just around the corner.

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“Expulsion from Eden,” Thomas Cole

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Errol Morris tells it this way in his excellent essay, “The Anosognosic’s Dilemma: Something’s Wrong but You’ll Never Know What It Is”:

For years, I have had my own version of the story of the expulsion from the Garden of Eden. In my version, God appears before Adam and Eve, and tells them that they have disobeyed Him. He admonishes them, and they will have to leave immediately. Everything will be completely grotesque, grim, ghastly and gruesome outside of Eden. God spares them no detail. Adam and Eve, both crestfallen, prepare to leave, but God, feeling perhaps a little guilty for the severity of his decision, looks at them and says, “Yes, things will be bad out there, but I’m giving you self-deception so you’ll never notice.”

Chicago is a blues town, singing loud and proud everything that’s wrong about a life. Chicago blues is a sort of self-deceived Delta blues, the acoustic guitar and harmonica of the latter jacked on electric guitar, heavy rolling bass, drums, piano, and sometimes a sax, a rattlin’ streetcar of desire going nowhere all too fast. “Playing the blues is like having to be black twice,” said BB King. Chicago style, it’s more than that. Chicago blues, as Ann-Marie MacDonald wrote in Fall on Your Knees, is “… no lady. Her songs are all unbelievably unhappy or lewd. It’s called Blues. She sings about sore feet, sexual relations, baked goods, killing your lover, being broke, men called Daddy, women who dress like men, working, praying for rain. Jail and trains. Whiskey and morphine. She tells stories between verses and everyone in the place shouts out how true it all is.”

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Howlin’ Wolf.

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I’m sorry to be coming to you in such a bluesy register, but then, you really aren’t out there anyway, are you? I write under the fiction of readership, something I haven’t really believed in for a long, long time, but believe in anyway. Belief has layers like that, you know. You can belive in something on one level and not really believe it on another. Like myths; they’re true even though they never happened. Like there ever was a singer who could sing his way past woof-woof Cerberus and rock the Queen of Hell’s socks off and getting her to allowing his dead wife Eurydice to follow him back into the land of the living. And there was only one condition laid out by Persephone: that Orpheus not look back on Eurydice until they’d cleared the threshold. What makes the story so damn humanly true is that Orpheus is soooooo eager to look upon the face of his lost wife that he turns just before the threshold, in time to watch his love smile oh so eternally bittersweetly and fade to nothing, leaving him alone there between the rocks and his heart’s hard place.

I’m sorry that I write this way, but not really; I’m humming along to the whiskey-hued hymn of 12-bar blues, making something, always something, out of the nothing I’ve been afforded since I was walking home that frozen afternoon in 1974, knowing that nothing waited for me there that I could embrace and love and understand but the getting there was all, my boots sliding on the icy sidewalks to the rhythm of “Me and Mrs. Jones,” a sliding, scuffling sort of walk, defiantly walking in the cold when I cold have been on a bus, walking because it pitted me against the entire awfulness of the city in January, hard winds blowing, icy grim shadows everywhere, my mind afloat on “Me and Mrs. Jones” and enjoying an affair with some hottie when my sexuality was still theoretical – I was still a year off from getting my cherry busted by a busty young mother who’d recently given up her son for adoption and held me to her nakedness in a room in her parents’ Lake Shore highrise like Orpheus holding on to his darling’s shadow – My writing today walks that way on that day, because it makes things sweet where little is to be found  in the current landscape of events.

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Call me a romantic fool, if you will, but Philly soul is just what the heart’s doctor calls for today. I hear it wafting from speaker to speaker of every boat drifting in the Gulf of Mexico today, every one of their keels stained the color of molasses and dark rum in the rheumy petroleum tide, whiffs of burning sea-turtles carried on the burning-oil breeze, sailors’ eyes all blue and sparkling as the Gulf of former days as they celebrate this day of independence from foreign governments and foreign oil, and independence which is so, so costly to the world we’re so, so dependent on. Oh well. “Me and Mrs. Jones” again for the fleet, dear Orpheus, reminding us all of power of love jones, defiant of everything we know in the name of all we must believe to survive.

Sorry it all slipped away … taking heart as I sing my blues …

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I’m sorry I wasn’t at Daytona Friday night to watch Dale Earhardt Jr. race, for that one time only, a replica blue-and-yellow No. 3 Wrangler Chevrolet to a win in the Jalapeno 250. My knowledge, gleaned this morning from NASCAR.com, is imperfect: there is no way I could have known the full triumph and exultation of his thrilling win on a night when it was supposed to rain and rain and rain. (Dog days in Florida, doggier this week with a tropic low out off the Panhandle cycling intense bands of rain clouds around the state). I can read about it, see the pictures, but missed the broadcast on ESPN, which could only have been a two-dimensional relay of action whose third and fourth and fifth dimensions are gifted only to the present.

I’m sorry, too, that I didn’t catch much of the Coke Zero 400 even on TV; we had my wife’s parents over for barbecue that had to be cooked in the oven because it was raining so damn much. What we got is what hit Daytona, too, and the race was an hour and a half late getting started as the storms passed over dumping their summer’s due and the blower trucks slowly rounded the track drying things out. We went out to catch the fireworks around 9 p.m. but there were none but the smartassed pop and crackle of neighborhood ‘works; it was dry enough but our city had decided to cancel the show where other local ‘burbs – Altamonte Springs, Apopka, Tavares – all let ‘em rip. Oh well. After the folks left we flipped channels on the set, catching 30 seconds or so of race action until 11 when we went to bed. I boned up on the race when I got up the next morning and it seemed a typical enough Daytona race: myriad lead changes, a Big One with 13 laps to go taking out half the field (including Kyle Busch, Denny Hamiln and Jimmie Johnson), Kevin Harvick taking the checkers under the boggy late night lights of Daytona in July. All of it seemed pretty routine, though I missed participating it in such an absent way; once those roaring rounds get in you, a part of you is forever still there, the way I’m still at my first rock ‘n’ roll dance, the sound of the band walloping me in the sternum and my heart beating in pace with Grand Funk Railroad’s “Are You Ready,” my jaw agape at watching pretty teens in minidresses shake their budding bodies to the beat in a way that invited me out to c’mon in, the water’s great … Those things I experienced are a part of my visceral knowledge, aided and abetted by memory’s faulty apparatus (I don’t remember 90 percent of what I was consicious of at those moments, in addition to the thousdandfold percent of what was streaming through the unknowable yet living realms of my brain).

Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s win on July 2 (by far the most memorable event of the race weekend) was for me, in the language of the day, a faintly-knowable unknown: I have enough of its periphery and background to understand the magnitude of the event, but I will never know what it was like to watch that No. 3 cross the finish line one last time, driven by a son who swore only to drive that car that once. By a son who hadn’t won any race since 2008, at the track where his daddy was killed driving the No. 3.

Magnitude.

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And if my attention was turned fully elsewhere at that moment that Dale crossed the finish line, as most of the world’s attention was focused elsewhere – either toward the World Cup where the Netherlands shocked the Brazilian empire with a 2-1 win, or drinking off bad economic news which is as local as your own living room (were you one of the 600,000 people who simply gave up looking for work in June? who found out, on June 2, that extended unemployment benefits was stalled in the Senate as they left to take a patriotic holiday?); or watching the Cincinnati Reds clobber the Cubs 12-0 on July 2 and then 14-3 on July 4, or keeping a thousand-yard stare on the ever-more oiled Gulf of Mexico: – If my attention was turned elsewhere, then just like you there is a vast world I will never know because I don’t want to know, so much world I just can’t know, and so much I believe I know but really don’t, not simply because I’m lying to myself (though self-deception, as I mentioned above, is a gift from the deception which is God) but because my godless brain only functions a certain way until I know enough to challenge it to think in other ways, which I can’t do because I don’t that I’m missing anything in the first place.

And the with some 250,000 posts being posted on WordPress alone today, there’s an overwhelming chance you’ll never know how much I will make out of what I don’t know, allowing it to become the informing rhetoric of racin’ at Chicagoland.

In cyberspace, almost no one can hear me Ovalscream. Not amid the pour of so much white noise.

Sorry, but that’s just the way it is.

But that ain’t stoppin’ me … Or you, my dream of a reader, from whispering Yes, Yes

Singin’ my racin’ blues.

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BB and JJ at Chicagoland take on Kid Busch.

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Now it’s on to Chicago, way back up north to the Middle Metropolis, Fat City, the Paris o’ the Plains, jewel of Lake Michigan, home of the toothless Bears and the ever-hopeless Cubs, where brass-knuckled politics is carried on over beer ‘n’ brats and the Playboy Building (now the Palmolive Building) casts a voluptuous shadow across Michigan Avenue toward the Sears Tower, now the tallest high-rise in the land after the leveling of twin towers of the World Trade Center on 9/11.

What do I know about Chicago? I’m back at sources on the Web, trying to catch the current flavor, not to the Chicago Tribune, Tribune Corp.’s flagship newspaper going glub glub glub down the abyss of gutshot corporate profits (their website sucks with fluff, nihiflavonids of crime and traffic and sports and pics of the day) but to the Chicago Collective, a non-profit reporting agency staffed mostly by ex-Tribune pats who were laid off or simply left in disgust. In a city where almost 300 schoolkids were killed by shootings last year, the Chicago City Council voted 45-0 last week on a new gun ordinance which snaked its way around the recent Supreme Court ruling which overturned its current handgun ban by prohibiting gun stores within the city limits and making it illegal for gun owners to carry their  weapons outside their homes.

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The trial of Rod Blagojevich soldiers on as the unrecalcitrant celebrity perp hogs the limelight proclaiming his honor and innocence as the darker facts rain down from the storm cloud which is Illinois politics, never innocent or noble to begin with. Blago played political hardball with his gubernatorial office, dipping into the cash honeypots at will, selling his influence as far as filling the Senate seat vacated when Barack Obama became President in 2008. The sheer nerve and gall of this helmethead shows how what power truly means in corn-fed politics, how it has no ends, how even jail sentences do little to wean its maddest pursuers of their desire. Anosognosics of this political vein are everywhere in Congress, too—hammers of a truth they may or may not believe but conduct themselves under the iron will of, allowing the country to mire and founder while proclaiming the greatness of their cause. (Patriots of which country, I wonder – the United States of Self-Interest, I suppose …)

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And the Chicago Cubs, now in their 138 season, muddle on in mediocrity, a game shy of third place in the NL’s Central division. Sold by Tribune last year to the the Ricketts family last year to pay off some of its monstrous debt, things have changed little on the field for a saddled with aging, high-contract players who have anemic batters and tantruming pitchers. It’s business as usual for team that has won one postseason series since 1908. Yet the fan base as ever remains astonishingly loyal: The Cubs will draw three million customers and play to roughly 98 percent of Wrigley capacity for the seventh straight season. They’ll exceed two million in paid attendance for the 15th straight year.

Cubs fans are anosognosics of a pennant fever which defies the ruthless facts of every next season, as high-flying as the flags of Wrigley field when they’re muscled by breezes coming off Lake Michigan: Every year they’re back at it in Wrigley Field in their Cubs hat and shirts, carrying on a family tradition of cheering on the pennant-less team in all of baseball. One blogger set the odds of the Cubs making it to the playoffs this year at .4 percent – less than 1 in 200 – and after watching Cincinnati maul the shit out them over the weekend (the one game the Cubs won 4-1 was almost a no-hitter by the Cubs pitcher but the Cubs stranded 27 base-runners, 1 runner shy of the league record), I’d say that’s a rosy prediction, indeed.

Losing is the norm in Chicago sports, yet there’s enough victory here and there to keep the spirits of fandom perennially warm. The Blackhawks hockey team won their first NHL championship in 30 years this year. The NFL Bears won a Super Bowl in ’86. The White Sox baseball team have 3 championships since 1900, and the Cubs have one since 1873. The NBA Bulls had a fantastic run in the 80s with Michael Jordan. Enough froth to keep the beer heady, though championship dreams seem to feed on mediocrity and insecurity.

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In 2010 the Chicago Blackhawks celebrated their first Stanley Cup in over 30 years.

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Indeed, Chicago is quintessentially a Second City, second to New York, second to LA, second to just about anywhere else. Tribune Company made disastrous purchases of the NY Daily News and LA Times, trying to become the powerhouse it always wanted to be and bankrupting itself in the process. And no amount of vaulted architecture (the Chicago skyline is proud and erectile), no amount of bad-boy swagger can allay the truth that this city’s a dump on the imperial plain of Big Cities, a wanna-be, virile in all of the small ways which add up to not enough.

Chicago was the official U.S. nominee for the 2016 Summer Olympics, competing against Tokyo and Rio de Janeiro and Madrid. Chicago tried hard to get the nod – Gov. Rod Blagojevich pledged $150 in state funds for the campaign and there was vocal support from the likes of Hilary Clinton, Oprah Winfrey and President Obama, but Chicago lost out to Rio de Janeiro, signifying (perhaps) the surge of that growing South American economy onto the world’s stage. But it was also a typical Chicago swing and a miss, leaving the Windy City 0-4 in attempts to get the Olympics staged there (other attempts were in 1901, 1952 and 1956).

Tom Busch, father of racin’ aces Kurt and Kyle, moved to Las Vegas from the western ‘burbs of Chicago before the boys were born. A dirt-track enthusiast with some NASCAR experience, Tom instilled a love of racin’ and Chicago in his boys. Kurt is an avid fan of the Cubs and the Bears; Kyle plans to wed Samantha Sarcenilla in Chicago’s Holy Name Cathedral on New Year’s eve later this year, with the wedding reception at the Chicago Cultural Center. Kyle has won the annual race at Chicagoland raceway – he won both the Nationwide and Sprint Cup races there in 2009 – and Kurt has had four top-10’s there.

The winningest active drivers at Chicagoland are Tony Stewart and Kevin Harvick, both with two. (Stewart has seven Top-5’s at Chicagoland).

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Kyle Busch won at Chicagoland in 2008, though his burnout landed him squarely in the mud.

When Kyle Busch won in 2008, he was on a roll, having won his third race in the past four tries. When Mark Martin won it last year, he was on a roll, getting his fourth victory of the season. Not so good a year for those boys – between them they have one Sprint Cup victory.

Chicagoland is one of four active tracks which Jimmie Johnson has not won at yet (the others are Michigan, Watkins Glen and Homestead). After a hot streak coming into the Coke Zero 400 last weekend (in the previous four races he’d finished fifth, sixth, first and first), Johnson’s 31st place finish — he got tangled in the Lap 148 Big One which also took out hot contender Denny Hamlin – expect new dad Jimmie to be looking to take another track off his no-win list.

Harvick, fresh from a win at Daytona (somehow managing to stay just ahead of the mayhem is a winning restrictor-plate-race strategy), is having one of his best seasons in years. He’s been hot since the start, taking advantage of an obviously-improved Richard Childress Chevrolet and using his experience on the tracks to his best advantage. Here’s his take on Chicagoland, from last year: “The little quirk that it has is the crooked back straightaway. The back straightaway is round. You’re used to going down the back straightaway and just kind of hanging against the wall and if you do that there, usually you’re going to hit it right after you get about three-quarters of the way down the straightaway because it’s going to curve back in. That’s probably the biggest difference it has compared to every other race track.”

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Kevin Harvick got his third career win at Chicagoland in 2002 (it was also his second win at the track.)

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A weird track which takes a certain knack. It’s not so much what you know as how you can play that knowledge, play it in a way that you don’t get fooled by what you think you know best.

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Alvis Miller, Playboy’s Miss November 1970, residing still in the ghost of the Playboy Building, ca. 1974.

Since I call myself a Florida boy, it might surprise you that I grew up in the Chicago area. Florida has only a 2-year residency requirement, and I’ve been a local for 30 years; no cracker but mostly composed, in the sum of years anyway, of heat and humidity and the long, long embrace of ocean borders.

Still, I don’t know much about the city since I left it in 1974 for college in Washington State. I made a few visits back, usually en route to somewhere else, but without any family there any more, with all the lousy memories still resident in the city’s grim shadows—well, there wasn’t any reason to stay for long. The last time I was there was in 1978, I think, thirty-two years ago.

I probably wouldn’t recognize the city today, certainly not my growing-up haunts in the northern ‘burbs of Winnetka, Evanston and Wilmette, nor the streets of New Town and Uptown in the city proper which I passed through for the last 2 years of high school. All of it would certainly look smaller from my grown-up vantage, like the pinhead-end of a camera obscura.

I never went to a race at Chicagoland; stock car racing didn’t even come to the track until I’d been gone for 25 years. When I was growing up, the only racing I knew of – like most urban kids in the ‘60s for whom car culture was a too-distant thing — was the Indy 500, faithfully broadcast on ABC’s “Wide World of Sports” on a Saturday afternoon the same weekend of my older brother’s birthday. I wasn’t much enthused with the sport, though I did have a red Matchbox open-wheel car in my collection. Growing up I was a James Bond, Astin-Martin-sportscar-with- a-hidden-arsenal-kind-of-kid, reenacting scenes from the Bond movies up in my room while the world did its late 60’s nasty outside my reach and ken, knocking off Goldfinger to get plenty of that Pussy Galore.

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Racin’ was, in my imperfect yet fertile imagination, a means to an end, how you get to the bomb before it blows up the world, rather than a sexual instrument in its own right, an end whose means was loud and fast and wild enough to shake a boy’s soul down to his budding balls.

Not for me: instead I took the El downtown from Evanston to watch the Cubs get beat by everybody (except for that one heartbreaking year of 1969, when they were so so close to winning the division pennant and then blew it bigtime,  spiraling down out of first like a biplane shot of the skies by a WWI ace). I remember paying $3 for a grandstand seat that was usually freezing in shade (why I always sat on the western side of Wrigley Field, I’ll never know) and etching the next Cubbie massacre on my scorecard. One afternoon I watched Roberto Clemente of the Pirates hit 5-for-5 in a 13-2 blowout, knocking balls off of every wall and into every deep alley while Willie Stargell knocked two high-arcing drives which cleared the bleachers onto Clark Avenue almost before the sound of the bat’s contact reached my ears. Baseball is languid and slow yet intense in its middle; from pitcher to batter to fielder there’s a hot motion, but everything else hangs loose in green stillness.

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I buried my heart at Wrigley Field with the 1969 Cubs.

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Nothing about such serene poise and stately unfoldment over nine innings suggests the oval cyclone which is racin’. Racin’ was an unknown unknown, a thrill in me I had no idea existed until I walked up from the bowels of Daytona International Speedway in 2009 up next to the track to catch the roar of an ARCA racer at full song on the afternoon of the Bud Shootout. I had by then gained a daily exposure to NASCAR and its ways through editing the NACSCAR the Week blog, glomming onto what Monte Dutton of The Gaston Gazette knows and loves and writes so well about. A certain osmosis had occurred. I had come to learn a lot about the past Sprint Cup season as a result, and a little of the larger history as well.

But being there for the full Monty of racin’ at NASCAR’s grand dame track, feeling the suck of air as a car approaches and the hard visceral hit of its engine’s whine – mauling on at close to a thousand horsepower – and then feeling carried along in the wake of that 170-mph transit (it was an ARCA race, after all): Well, a certain awakening took place, a carnal knowledge entering me at the moment which I will never forget.

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I now knew the teeth in stock car racing’s sly smile, its brutal assault on a track and the ravenous attention of some fifty thousand spectators in the frontstretch, all craning their necks for some of that action, heightened most when a driver encounters something their skills and training did not, could not anticipate in the margin of speed beyond human reaction time and, in a heartbeat or less, go skidding into the wall and then spinning down into the infield, sometimes performing cartwheels of smoke and flying debris.

Such events are not knowable until you’ve been there for them. Yet when they spring, as racin’ did for me at Daytona International Speedway on the afternoon of Feb. 9, 2009, they feel akin to some sort of knowledge you were born with, maybe of a past life, or sound of mountains groaning and grinding as they heave up to dizzying heights, or the sound of one of God’s hands clapping while the other rips the Moon from the deep blue sea.

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OK, so this post is a little about the Chicaogland race, which I as of yet know just a little about, and mostly about what I don’t or can’t know – “unknown unknowns” and “unknowable unknowns.”  The terms have found new currency with all the idiot shenangans underway in the Gulf of Mexico, where a greedy, arrogant and cost-conscious energy gazzillionaire decided to drill fast and deep into the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico heedless enough of the risk and received, in payment, a whup-ass repayment of an oil spill that is now bigger than any one recorded in the Gulf and which could threaten shores all the way up to Maine with goopy eggs of oil and a long, long tail of undersea misamas, the breadth and depth of harm we may not understand for decades. Drilling that deep without tested safe-guards was like having unprotected sex with a Zellwood truckstop hooker on the way home to your wife: the consequence fan out in a rainbow of shit. Yet blithely down and down the BP drill went, poking assends of Gaia you just don’t do without a clue of how to handle when hundreds of millions of years of packed bowel find a fresh anus.

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X-ray of a BP exec.

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(OK, such drilling is not as blind as all that. As the relief well is now being drilled, the NY Times reported the other day about the intelligence which is critical for digging miles beneath the sea:

… Because a string of drill pipe, along with the rotating bit at its cutting end, tends to go this way and that, drillers need critical information about the location of a well as it is being drilled.

“First you need to know where you are,” Mr. Kaniappan said. “Then you need to know from where you are, where you need to go.”

The need for accurate location information — in a subterranean environment that Global Positioning System satellite signals cannot reach — is true now more than ever, as oil and gas wells go deeper and become more complex, veering off horizontally through narrow hydrocarbon reservoirs or parallel existing wells.

But it is especially true right now in the Gulf of Mexico, where BP is drilling a relief well to intersect the runaway well that has been spewing oil since April.

The relief well will be used to pump heavy drilling mud, followed by cement, into the damaged well to stop the gusher permanently. But first it, or a second relief well being drilled nearby as a backup, must hit the target — the existing well’s steel casing pipe, only seven inches in diameter, more than 3 miles below the surface of the gulf. (Henry Fountain, “Hitting a Tiny Bulls-Eye Miles Beneath the Gulf”)

But beyond knowing “where you are, from where you are, and where you need to go,” you need to know why you’re there in the first place, and this is where the knowledge gets confused with the usual culprits – greed and haste and arrogant assurance. Did these guys know the risk well enough to sufficiently plan for accidents like Deepwater Horizon or were they too stupid to recognize it? Was everything they knew double-crossed by everything they desired (read profit)?

Errol Morris’ essay on anosognosia, which ran in five parts on the New York Times website a few weeks ago with tons of fertile comment, was a conversation with a number of experts on the psychological condition where a patient suffers from a disability and seems unaware or denies the existence of his or her disability. David Dunning, who participated in that discussion, described it this way:

An anosognosic patient who is paralyzed simply does not know that he is paralyzed.  If you put a pencil in front of them and ask them to pick up the pencil in front of their left hand they won’t do it.  And you ask them why, and they’ll say, “Well, I’m tired,” or “I don’t need a pencil.”  They literally aren’t alerted to their own paralysis.  There is some monitoring system on the right side of the brain that has been damaged, as well as the damage that’s related to the paralysis on the left side.  There is also something similar called “hemispatial neglect.”  It has to do with a kind of brain damage where people literally cannot see or they can’t pay attention to one side of their environment.  If they’re men, they literally only shave one half of their face.  And they’re not aware about the other half.  If you put food in front of them, they’ll eat half of what’s on the plate and then complain that there’s too little food.  You could think of the Dunning-Kruger Effect as a psychological version of this physiological problem. If you have, for lack of a better term, damage to your expertise or imperfection in your knowledge or skill, you’re left literally not knowing that you have that damage …

My grandmother on my mother’s side suffered from anosognosia; in her early 80’s she fell and hit her head, damaging the areas of her brain—maybe the speech area, maybe the area which thinks she can speak. Whatever the case, she didn’t know she couldn’t talk. You’d ask her a question; she seemed to understand it but when she tried to respond it all came out as gibberish. She’d get furious when you said you said you didn’t understand her; in her mind she was speaking perfect English. She never knew, or understood, or accepted that she had this disability.

And so the problem of anosognosia is that there are layers of not-knowing-that-you-don’t-know. inability. There is raw cluelesslness; you don’t know what you can’t know. Then there is self-deception, which means that you know, on some level, enough of the problem, but some psychomechanical function kicks in to fabricate untruths to hide the truth from yourself. And there is outright denial, where you consciously know something but still say you don’t, that it isn’t true.

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My grandmother was trapped in her disability; most of her doctors believed she truly thought she was making sense when she babbled. She died not knowing she didn’t know how to talk anymnore. But since mind is a cultural phenomenon as well as a person one, anosognosia is evident everywhere you see idiocy in action. When financial industry wonks appeared in front of Congress and told them that they had no idea of the meltdown which had occurred due to their instruments, were they clueless, self-deceived or outright deniers? I’d venture that they were fooled by what they thought they knew most, or wanted most – money – a desire which blinded them to the risk to their customers and the economy at large.

What’s so galling is that smart people are seem to be especially gullible to anosognosiaic decisions. Take Don Rumsfeld, Secretary of Defense in the Bush Administration, who was asked the following by a reporter in a 2002 Q&A session at the end of a NATO press conference: “Regarding terrorism and weapons of mass destruction, you said something to the effect that the real situation is worse than the facts show.”

Rumsfeld replied,

Sure. All of us in this business read intelligence information. And we read it daily and we think about it, and it becomes in our minds essentially what exists. And that’s wrong. It is not what exists.

There are known knowns. These are things we know that we know. There are known unknowns. That is to say, there are things that we now know we don’t know. But there are also unknown unknowns. These are things we do not know we don’t know.”

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What we know now of this is that Rumsfeld was building a case for invading Iraq, a decision which had been made by Vice President Cheney the day after Sept. 11, 2001. Weapons of mass destruction was the case, and the CIA was pulled in to assemble enough evidence to convince Congress and the United Nations to give green light in invading Iraq.

Somehow, the Bush Administration’s inability to “connect the dots” in any sufficient enough way to prevent the 9/11 attacks and the schema of an Iraq loaded to the teeth with chemical and nuclear weapons – one which proved wholly untrue – can be linked as evidence of the folly of “unknown unknowns.”

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Three interpretations are possible: A) The sheer amount of intelligence data was too complex to intelligently assemble; B) The Bush Administration was so convinced of its interpretation of events that it could not understand their true nature (arrogance and hubris); or C) the hawks in the Bush Administration willfully cooked the data to deceive everyone of their real intentions (outright malice).

The answer could be any or all or none of them – “unknown unknowns” are things we don’t even know how to ask the proper question of – but the result is that we’re still over there, back in Afghanistan fighting what became, on June 7 of this year, longest war in U.S. history, with no end in sight.

Now, Rummy was no dummy. His famous “unknown unknowns” quote, which many in the press lambasted as typical obfuscation and contempt from a man at much at war with his own military as world-wide terrorism, was lauded by others as a brilliant distillation of a complex situation.

The concept of “unknown unknowns” was in the general currency to the U.S. military when Rumsfeld came to lord over it. Back in 1984, Raymond B. Furlong, Lieutenant General, USAF (Ret.), published a paper titled “Clausewitz and Modern War Gaming: losing can be better than winning” where he wrote,

To those things Clausewitz wrote about uncertainty and chance, I would add a few comments on unknown unknowns–those things that a commander doesn’t even know he doesn’t know. Participants in a war game would describe an unknown unknown as unfair, beyond the ground rules of the game. But real war does not follow ground rules, and I would urge that games be “unfair” by introducing unknown unknowns.

Using the U.S. military machine to fight a borderless, stateless entity like terrorism certainly introduces “unknown unknowns” into the equation; it’s akin to trying to understand the mind and gambits of tyrant like Saddam Hussein (or, more currently North Korea’s Kim Jong-il, or the Taliban in Pakistan). How can a central intelligence understand such diffuse and watery stratagems, weighing an opponent which has few values to use against them and which is nigh-impenetrable, like the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico? Rotsa ruck, boys,

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The phrase “unknown unknowns” is popping up everywhere as the limits of science begin to reveal the shoreline between what we know and what we may never have the brain to know. It characterizes cancer and AIDS research which lumbers along without getting closer to a cure; the complexity of these things is so multi-dimensional that the biological universe is becoming a sort of string-theoried universe, with so many halls and doors that knowledge gets further and further from us the more we know. We may never be able to devise suitable instruments for “seeing” the dark matter which comprises the grand majority of our universe.

We may be clueless, or self-decieved, or in downright denial that our simian brain, like everything else in Nature, can only do a few things well enough. But we’re bonking against the wall enough to get the sense that it’s clearly there, and we aren’t getting past it.

Maybe that’s not such a bad thing. There is precious little evidence that intelligent life exists anywhere else in the universe; we are truly alone in a howlingly vast cosmos.

And then again, maybe intelligent life is a virus which the universe had almost successfully saved itself from, until we came along …

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* * *

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Last weekend’s races at Daytona were an excellent example of what happens when you drive at the limits of what you know. Cars going 190 mph on an old, loose track, in the sort of tight formation which restrictor-plate racin’ is famous for, made tighter by double-file restarts: The only finesse a driver can exercise is that of somehow staying as close to the front as one can, knowing that at any moment the mayhem is sure to explode further back in the pack. The “unknown unknown” of Daytona is winning, when so much conspires with luck to determine outcomes. It’s why so many restrictor-plate races always have a surprising cast of finishers; on July 3, Reed Sorenson, Mike Bliss and Scott Speed all found themselves in the top ten.

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A portrait of what you can expect but never know enough to prepare for: The Big One at the Coke Zero 400 on July 3 occurred on Lap 148 and took out half the field.

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In racin’ at tracks like Talladega and Daytona, Luck is the “known unknown” which grants a driver victory; just how Wynona pulls it off is an “unknown unknown”; and why I care to even posit this is the darkest, fourth caterory of “unknowns,” an “unknowable unknown,” something so hidden in the dark matter of my grey matter that I cannot write well about my them Theme because I haven’t the smarts to ask the right questions of it.

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But I try, I try, whistlin’ “Me and Mrs. Jones” on into a darkness as impenetrable as besting the dark matters which swirl on the great Daytona track.

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* * *

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Sundown at Chicagoland Speedway.

So let us move on to Chicago, even as I continue to sit in this chair in the brooding humid darkness of Florida early in the morning of its great summer day. (Writing thus is like restrictor-plate racing; I aim, I weave, I steer clear and pray that when Error confronts me I have the mental smarts and physical reaction time to see the only opening available and careen on past the carnage.)

But let’s get there humping up against the back door of History, a rump of dark and foetid and verboten Mysteries whose rhetoric is composed of stuff I know but you don’t.

Don Rumsfeld. I don’t know him personally, but my father did, for a good number of years, and my fathering has lots of Rumsfeld’s aura in it, for better or worse. Rumsfeld was in an Illinois church youth group headed by my father—my dad’s five years older than Rummy — and both attended Princeton. According to my father, Rumsfeld was quite an athlete, a wrestler who was never pinned by any opponent. (That feistiness was just as apparent all those years later in the way he handled the press corps in the Bush Administration.)

My dad supported Rumsfeld when he ran for the 13th Congressional District seat in our suburb of Chicago in ’63; joined Rumsfeld in the Republican Watchdog Committee up in their hotel across from Hyde Park when the Chicago police sliced and diced demonstrators outside the ’68 Democratic Presidential Convention (tear gas blew up from the street and they had to close all the windows.) When Rumsfeld became Secretary of State under President Ford following Nixon’s resignation (Dick Cheney was Ford’s Chief of Staff), my Dad made numerous trips to Washington, hobnobbing with Rumsfeld and Ford and Kissinger for reasons I won’t elaborate upon here.

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Secretary of State Don Rumsfeld, President Gerald Ford, and White House Chief of Staff Dick Cheney, ca.1975.

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They drifted apart after that, with Rumsfeld going on to successful corporate life in the private life—a notorious cost-cutter of human capital at G.D. Searle and then sitting on the boards Tribune Company and RAND Corporation, a global policy think-tank. My dad fared for a while on the surface of the world’s great events, close to the stratosphere Rumsfeld worked in; during the Ford years he served as U.N. Correspondent for a third-world press agency based in Rome, and got involved somehow in the takeover of the Porutguese government by a socialist military junta in the mid-1970’s. Exciting stuff. I stayed with him in New City in the summer of 1975 – I was 18 – and there were CIA agents in the building, watching out for (or keeping an eye on) him. I never drank so much booze as I did that summer, working as a mailroom drone for a TV and radio marketing corporation in midtown and coming home every day to a drama which kept intensifying, my dad and I drinking Scotch on the 39th-floor balcony of his apartment, watching the ships slog up and down the West River, talking about things like geopolitics and political change, stuff I knew nothing about. (That summer, my main goal was to finally get laid.)

Something happened, and then my dad took a dive for the wilderness, buy a patch of woodlands in the Poconos of eastern Pennsylvaia and building, over 30 years, a megalithic retreat somehow in sync with an older, deeper, wilder kind of time.

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I only met Rumsfeld once, when I was about seven years old, at a party at our house in Evanston to celebrate Rumsfeld’s successful congressional campaign. My dad introduced us – I remember a handshake as iron-fast as the man’s jaw-line – and he was gone back into the swirls of the celebration, one I was allowed to hang upon the periphery of as long as I stayed quiet. I loved the smell of cigarettes and pipe-smoke (my dad has smoked a pipe forever), the clinking of scotch-glasses, the laughter of women high over the low gutteral chuckles of the men. It was an adult world, and I couldn’t wait to be rid of my fucking childhood to be a part of it.

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Our family house in the ’60s, Evanston, IL.

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Our house in that age was a spooky monument to history. Built in 1863 by the architect Harvey Hurd, it sits on the corners of Weseley Avenue and Davis Street and is enormous – big screened porch, parlor, living room, library, bathroom dining room, pantry, kitchen, two fireplaces on the first floor, gas fixtures still in place. Up on the second floor, five bedrooms, two baths; a four-room attic and a six-room basement, including a coal bin where we swore a dead body had been interred, deeply under all that black coal. Abraham Lincoln was said to have stayed there one night as he was campaigning. My dad bought the place in 1960 for $30 thousand and sold it, when my parents separated, for twice that much. In 1991, it was on the market for $1.2 million. It had a great side hill for sledding and a cherry tree and a coach house in back which we converted into an apartment; there were two iron hitching posts down next to Wesley Avenue; the library was stuffed with books that went back into the 1850s. A fantastical house with plenty of room and shadows to go with it.

We lived out the 60’s in that house. My dad was working downtown and was much involved in the city’s politics, trying to get corporations to do business in the city’s impoverished West Side. He knew guys with the Teamsters and black radicals and corporate wonks, he’d met Mayor Daley, we housed students at Northwestern University who became campus radicals as the anti-war movement heated up. One night when my parents were out I got a phone call from a Black Panther who was in jail on the South Side, trying to get bailed. The next day when my father went to check on him, he found out the man had been killed in jail.

(The Chicago Collective recently reported that, three decades after criminal suspects interrogated at a South Side police station began complaining that they were being tortured into making confessions, a jury on June 28 found a former police commander who led the unit guilty of crimes related to the abuse. The former commander, Jon Burge, was not convicted of abusing prisoners — crimes for which the statute of limitations had passed — but of perjury and obstruction of justice for lying about the abuse in a civil case.  Yet the message for this city’s South Side — where relations between the police and black residents, especially, have been scarred by stories of suspects burned, suffocated with typewriter covers and shocked with electrical devices — was the same: Mr. Burge, whose name had become a symbol of police brutality, will face punishment.)

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Left: Darrell Cannon alleges he was tortured in 1983 by Chicago Police commander Jon Burge. Cannon was convicted of murder and served 24 years in prison.  Right: Former Chicago Police Commander Jon Burge walks back to his attorney’s office from the Dirksen Federal Courthouse after he testified in his own defense on Thursday June 17, 2010. Burge was found guilty of two counts of obstruction of justice and one count of perjury. Sentencing is set for November 5.

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I watched the Chicago Convention of 1968 on TV, while my dad was downtown with Rumsfeld in the Republican watchdog committee. I was watching “The Jungle Book” at a State Street theatre downtown when rioting broke out on the West Side after Martin Luther King had been shot; my dad fetched me out in the middle of the movie and had me hide under the dash of our station wagon as he drove home, leery of snipers reported on the highway overpasses. My dad took me to see a Chicago staging of “Hair” and all I wanted to see was the infamous naked scene, which wasn’t much more than nakedness – not very exciting – though I played the “Hair” soundtrack on our battered Motorola stereo, alternating it with James Bond soundtracks. (My dad favored the Beatles White Album and Barbara Streisand; none of us knew about the gay lifestyle he was pursuing in his downtown persona.)

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I lived out the 60’s in that big old house, aware and oblivious at the same time, whether out of innocence or raw psychological survival. I knew the world wasn’t safe outside of my room, whether because my older brother was out there usually poised to knock the shit out of me as we were “playing” some game, or the black kids at school were all lined up to have a go at the smarty fatty pants, or because there were advancing lines of radicals and nightstick-wielding cops, or that Blofeld was about to blow up Chicago with a thermonuclear weapon unless James Bond stopped him in time, which I didn’t know if he could but believed so anyway in my anosognosic emulsifications of the truth.

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Separated at birth?

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* * *

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Fast-forward from that moment to July of 1974. I wake to an incredibly hot morning in Chicago. Our row house on Fullerton Avenue doesn’t have a/c so all of the windows in my bedroom are open wide to the incessant blare of traffic and heat which has stayed trapped in the cement canyons of downtown overnight. No relief in sight.

But who cares? I’m deep in my first summer as a high school graduate, careening into adulthood in the wake of my family’s final breakup – my mother and younger brother and sister had just moved out, headed South to Florida – my faith in God and family and just about anything other than pussy and booze and rock n roll shattered. And I wake to Deep Purple’s “Smoke on the Water” on the clock radio next to my bed, antheming through that tiny speaker something better than coffee for a dying-of-thirst soul. It’s summer in Chicago and I am finally a free man.

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The El train headed downtown; Deep Purple.

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Free, at least, until 2 p.m. when I have to take the El downtown to the First National Bank where I descend two sub-floors to the check routing department, which back then was done on these massive individual IBM machines that had dozens of buttons on them for each originating bank. That was my after-school gig, and even though I didn’t have school any more, I still had to work, was expected to help pay the bills shared by my dad, older brother and me.

At least there was no getting up early any more. I was free to stay up late and try to sneak into the local rock ‘n’ roll club (I was 16) and chase girls with un-Christianned impunity. Another defining song of that summer was Steely Dan’s  “Rikki Don’t Lose That Number;” I remember it most sharply playing one rainy night on another clock radio as I tried, for hours, to get the jeans off some girl whose name is forever lost and whose bedroom was so hot with our passionate battle that all that rain couln’t slake the city’s thirst one  sufficient enough drop.

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But “Smoke on the Water” is the rhythm I still hear in my ear, 35 years later, 35 years since I left the city and suburbs I grew up in to make my way to Florida (with a 6-year layover in Spokane, Washington, attending college and then dropping out to work in warehouses and play in rock n roll bands). A chugging, hardcore sort of blues, just my register, depth, and attitude, an ax-blade-like way to face the world, cleaving it wide to get to the night’s goods.“Rock ‘n’ Roll (Hootchie Coo)” “Slow Ride” “China Grove,” “You Ain’t Seen Nothin’ Yet” “Under My Wheels”: all of those early 70s rock anthems also played on the album-rock station that fed me the aural news (news of a dope-addled, safely apolitical, pussy-crazed license to delay, almost forever, the rough descent into the world called Growing Up): Throw all of those songs into the brew, but “Smoke on the Water” holds the beat, the surest, thudding through its jack-booted power-chord progression like an El train chug-a-lug-lugging its way through the darkest heart of the city.

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At sixteen, I still ddn’t have a driver’s license – wouldn’t have one for seven more years, when I moved to Florida and couldn’t get around without a car. In Chicago, there’s mass transit, and there’s walking, walking, walking. No wonder I was so thin. My older brother was they guy with the car – or who had a car. A week or two earlier he was out in the country racing it up in his used Dodge Charger—his first car, only a couple of months off the lot– and wrecked trying to get through a toll booth without paying. He was reducced to the indinigty of riding a bicycle to the bakery where he worked.

My brother was the car guy, but that didn’t mean I wasn’t immune to the sort of bluesy ballsy wail of “Smoke on The Water” when played on a car radio. Forget “Radar Love” and “Rock On,” and “You Ain’t Seen Nothin’ Yet”: The quintessential sound of the summer of 1974 was a hard-rolling, big-rocking song the size of the Chicago-sized hole in my soul, ripped out by the loss of family and faith and just about everything else and physicked to a baritone vibrato with Scotch whiskey – all of it from the bottle my dad poured for us as we clinked our glasses to the emptiness of future. There was no making sense of it, so we just drank and I picked up an electric guitar and felt the power of loud blues – a power which makes the whirled go round: hearts, race cars, the world itself.

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* * *

Concluding his NY Times Opinionator series on anosognosia, Errol Morris takes us back to the Garden of Eden for another take on that desire to know things with a thirst which is forever unslaked – the same desire which led me to write a friggin’ post which ended up going nowhere, at length, once again:

And so, here’s another parable to go with the expulsion from the Garden — an even more pessimistic account. (Or optimistic, if you prefer, because it puts a limit on human suffering caused by an awareness of the futility of our situation.) When God created man (and woman), he gave them the ability to perceive the world, but withheld from them the ability to understand it. We could come up with one cockamamie theory after another, but real understanding would always elude us. It was mean-spirited on God’s part. And to make matters even worse, God gave us the desire but not the wherewithal to make sense of experience.  One might easily foresee that this would lead to unending, unmitigated frustration and suffering.  But here’s where self-deception, anosognosia and the Dunning-Kruger Effect step in. We wouldn’t be able to make sense of anything, but we would never be aware of that fact.

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The Garden of Eden with the Fall of Man (c. 1615) Rubens and Jan Brueghel the Elder.

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I’d sing the blues for all of us for that fact, but that song fades from our lips. As Big Bill Broonzy said, “Blues is a natural fact, is something that a fellow lives. If you don’t live it you don’t have it. Young people have forgotten to cry the blues. Now they talk and get lawyers and things.” Why suffer the blues when you can litigate it, or mitigate it with the toneless soulless chatter of words without a proper 12-bar tail?

Back in 1958 – the year Broonzy died, and a year after I was born – blues clubs could be found on just about every other corner of the south and west sides Chicago. The sound was still strong in July 1974 when I was in living hell and learning how to play the blues on my guitar. That was also when the “Soundstage” episode titled “Blues Summit in Chicago” aired, featuring some of the best blues artists around – including Willie Dixon, Junior Wells, KoKo Taylor, Buddy Miles and Johnny Winter – in honor of Muddy Waters.

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Scenes from the 1974 Chicago Blues Summit.

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All these years later, there are only a few blues clubs to be found in the city, and you can’t hear the blues on any Chicago radio station. I don’t play the guitar nor drink whiskey any more – you can drown in the blues, you know – but I still have the thirst, and I need more than ever that sugarmalt sort of stroll in the dark, snapping my fingers and shaking my ass to keep flagging hopes alive. You try living in Central Florida in the Great Recession, with Spillapalooza continuing to spread Bad Shit through the Gulf (and further, if you believe those tar balls found on Cocoa Beach yesterday had made their way down and around the Florida Straits) and it just getting hotter, harder, and unbelievably worse outside – you’d turn to the blues, too, if you even knew there was a way to sing ‘em still.

Which takes us to the gates of Chicagoland on Race Weekend in July. It’s been hot in Chicago along with the rest of the Midwest and northeast (triple-digits in New York City for the third day in a row); back in ’95 a heat wave led to 739 deaths – it’s been so hot that Lake Michigan is burning in my mind; or is that just “Smoke on the Water” still playing in my head, rewinding all of those bluesy memories of my last summer in the Fat City?

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The Cubs are out of town on a road trip which began on a rare note of hope, their hibernating bats coming alive to pull off only their second series sweep of the season, this time against the Arizona Diamondbacks. They have the most expensive payroll in the National League — $120 million – yet are on pace for a 90-loss season. As if to thunder such bad augur, Los Angeles experienced a 5.4-magnitude earthquake just hours ahead of the arrival of the hapless Cubs. Cubbie fans still believe – Wrigley Field is still Chicago’s No. 1 funhouse – but that indomitable spirit does not seem so durable any more. As of the end of June there were half as many home games that saw 40,000-plus attendance as las year. Maybe it’s the economy, or maybe we Cubs fans have forgotten how to sing the blues.

No wonder I’m comforted by the strains of “Me and Mrs. Jones” coming out from the vents of my Chicago memory, suffused with cold January air and a bittersweetness that would make you fall in love if it didn’t make your cry first. The Philly soul artist who also sang “Am I Black Enough For You?” finds a way to cool the brow the of a racetrack burning a hot oval in the grim metropolis of history deep in my mind.

We gotta be extra careful
That do we don’t build our hopes up too high
Because she’s got her own obligations
And so, and so, do I

Me and Mrs. Jones
We got a thing goin’on
We both know that it’s wrong
But it’s much too strong
To let it go now

Sure is comforting, even if it never was true.

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One response to “Ain’t No Cure for My Chicagoland Blues (Thank God)

  1. Fascinating and wildly expansive, as always. I’ve come to look forward to these vast crisscrossings of … all matter of things.

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