“A short tale on the face of masculinity, portrayed by young men who grow up in inner city environments. Where the iconic ‘screwface’ is more than just an expression, it’s a matter of life and death.

“The 3-minute think-piece aims to dispel the look’s reputation as a form of intimidation, and instead to help shed light on its purpose as a form of self-defence. Based on real life experiences, Abdou Cisse, who grew up in South London — gives you an insight into what it’s like growing up in a place where a young man’s masculinity is challenged and defended by a mere expression.”

The screwface is a part of culture here in Chicago as well, though I notice it only once in a while in this part of Rogers Park. Most of the time I just note it and let it go. But there was one occasion…

It was a beautiful — no, it was a gorgeous late spring morning. From under the CTA viaduct over Estes at Glenwood, a lad baggily dressed in colors stalked towards me. He reached Glenwood before I did. As he crossed the street, something fell out of his leg pocket. From my distance away on Estes, it was not clear what it was.

I could have said something then but did not. His face was gnarled in a snarl, his gait and his prickly awareness of all about him suggested he was a clear and present danger to any challenge. When we finally passed on the sidewalk, it was obvious that he had judged I was of no concern to him.

At the center of Glenwood lay his cell phone. I stooped, picked it up and turned.

“Yo!” I yelled. He jerked.

“You dropped your phone!”

We met at the corner outside Kim’s Corner Foods. He was delighted and had a broad smile but a strained and incredulous smile, as if he had forgotten how to smile, as if he had abandoned hope for any occasion to smile, but now and yet, he was smiling. In its own way, it was a most remarkable smile.

I handed him his phone.

We turned and went our separate ways.


Courtship Politics

Well, it’s Valentines Day, a holiday that has happily evolved into yet another sentimentalized incentive for gluttony: huzzah for capitalism and corn syrup. That said, it might be fun to look backwards to the old Louis Jordan song “Beware, Brother, Beware”. It’s a male view, ladies, okay? Now, brothers, listen up:

David Bromberg’s 1970s cover of the song is also great fun, and I prefer it, though the dogmatically judgemental among us will probably mutter something about cultural appropriation (especially since Louis Jordan is sometimes counted as the inventor of rock n’ roll)…

The song belongs to a different world, I think. But keep in mind that “breach of promise to marry” is still a basis for a law suit in roughly half the States in the Union though most of them limit what money can be recovered (in Illinois, “documented wedding expenses” only according to Wikipedia). It was right before (1930s) this song was written (1946) that “breach of promise to marry” started becoming a civil matter rather than a potential criminal prosecution. I recall reading that “breach of promise to marry” was a leading sex crime in the U.S. during the 1920s. I can’t find a cite for that but, yes, men — it was usually men — could go to jail for breaking an engagement. Even after a revolution, people continue reading from the old scripts.

I’ve been out of circulation for a long time… Dating got really weird back in middle age, too weird really, and not much fun. At times the experience felt like something scripted, except the director (and who, pray tell, was that?) had neglected to provide me with my copy of the script. At other times it felt like I was on a job interview. This is not meant to be shade over any of the women; they all could have been worthwhile people to have as a friend. That “friend” was not an apparent option was the one of the strange aspects of the time.

Other things also moved me to the shelf. Often I hadn’t the money to take myself on a date never mind anyone else and, when I had money, I generally hadn’t much time. No complaints, mind you. Had I felt all that strongly about it, I would have found a way of doing something about it. After all, isn’t that an eternal trope of popular entertainment? Love, or possibly lust, will find a way.

The last date I was on, years ago, was unexpected and involuntary on my part, but I’ll save that story for another time. Maybe.

Max Headroom

Let’s go back 20 minutes in the future… of 1985. For those of you for whom 1985 is more-or-less pre-history, the Max Headroom character was a scanned digital simulacrum of “hard hitting” TV journalist, Edison Carter. Despite being a copy, Max Headroom is rather different in character than his fictional human original, particularly in Max’s role in both the U.S. and British television series “Max Headroom”. Edison Carter was a classic muck-raker journalist. Max Headroom was an “edgy” (because, after all, he isn’t real and so: what standards should apply?) talk-show host and corporate shill.headrest1

I missed most of this back in the 1980s, understand, as my last television set died around 1981 or 1982, never to be replaced. My main exposure to Max Headroom was Garry Trudeau’s use of him in the Doonesbury comic-strip as a satire on Ronald Reagan (Ron Headrest), implying that if President Reagan were replaced by a digital automaton, no one would notice. On the other hand, one of Garry Trudeau’s characters, television reporter Roland Hedley, resembles and predates Edison Carter. Maybe there’s some British borrowing there, or maybe it’s just a mutual stereotype.

The program was a British import, and like many such, it was remanufactured for the American audience, with possibly less violence to the original concept than is typical. But there are differences. Here is the original British pilot, an hour long, from which the whole enterprise sprang… sort of a punk Dr. Who. Hold on to your TRON.


(Be sure to watch all the way through the credits.)


For some reason, videos are almost never terrifying for me. Embarrassing, yes. Boring, yes. Entertaining, yes. Educational, yes. All manner of things, but terrifying? This video is absolutely terrifying, very nearly panic inducing.

Two police officers stop at night to remove from a rural highway what appears to be a very large dead badger. It becomes unclear just what the creature is, but… it is not dead but drunk. What seems to happen next…

The title “Nighthawk” probably is intended to suggest random, malign predation from the concealing and lonely darkness of the night. In reality, nighthawks are nocturnal, insectivorous birds. They were once not unusual in Chicago, or at least in Rogers Park, but I’ve not heard one call in the night for decades. I miss them. So the title of the video is not so alarming, at least to me.

There may be two aspects about this video that disturb me.

One is that there is a large body of videos on the web that is best described as accident porn. The “fails” are various, but many are dash cam recordings of traffic accidents. Typically they begin with a few tens of seconds of quite ordinary driving and traffic then things turn really bad, frequently without any warning whatsoever. Quite frankly, it’s not clear to me just how people can willingly drive or even be a passenger after having watched more than 5 or 10 minutes of such recordings. None the less, there is obviously an audience for this stuff. Possibly the viewers figure it couldn’t happen to them, and what a pleasant opportunity to pass judgement on those who fail. Cleansing the gene pool of fools and idiots seems to be a favored attitude for much of the audience.

Even though I’ve not owned a car since 1979 and haven’t driven a car since sometime in 2008, this precariousness pretty much matches my experience. The few accidents I’ve been in have been without injury. But there were more than a few times when I returned a rental car after having witnessed a handful of accidents that day and more than a little oblivious driving. On those occasions, it seemed to me that it was almost an accident that I had not been in an accident. It could indeed happen to you.

The other aspect is Louie.

Louie and his wife were a seriously dysfunctional couple, neighbors of mine in the subdivided mansion where I grew up. Both had their problems, neither was any prize as a human, but Louie was an alcohol junkie and worse, a mean drunk. The battles between Louie and his wife were sometimes epic and on a few occasions included guns.

Louie had redeeming qualities, too. He was a stellar carpenter, good at shaping anything wooden whether it was a house, furniture, bird house or tchotchke lawn ornament. I still have a solid and precise set of shelves that he made some fifty years ago. Louie was also an excellent gardener. He more or less expropriated substantial parts of the landlord’s large yard for flower beds that I recall as always in bloom. And one way or another, the two of them always had money to pay the rent and to own a car or two.

But he was a really mean drunk.

There is research that suggests, for a small percentage of the population, alcohol has a dramatic Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde effect; the intoxication evokes rage. When I mentioned this research to a friend, he paused for a moment, considering perhaps an alcoholic in his own life, then said in a smugly judgemental way: “No. That’s just an excuse.”

Excuse from what? I never asked my friend. I don’t know if Louie was part of that small percentage, but if he was, what practical difference would the inevitability of his rage make? It might make a difference in treatment if he sought treatment or was judicially assigned treatment. Another practical difference is that the research finding, if true, would deprive my friend of a superior moral position, of the pleasure of making a moral judgement of Louie and people like him.

Louie may very well have agreed with my friend: Why can’t I not drink? Why is it that when I drink, I so often fight? Why is it the fights make so little sense? The fault is not in my stars but in me. Now consider the years of accumulating revulsion. Consider what it would be like to live with that inner-directed revulsion and to have it affirmed by those around you.

It eventually came to pass that Louie and his wife moved out and were divorced. The gardens rapidly retreated to lawn and the Martin houses decayed into slums for sparrows. But the new neighbors were civil and pacific and harmless mostly. Louie ended up in a trailer in the next town south of us where he continued to drink. At length, he drunkenly drove his car the wrong way down Interstate 55, killing himself and a family of four. It was murder — suicide.

Louie, I suspect, would agree with this video’s “badger’s” last words. And if that doesn’t scare the bejesus from ye…

The Tail

Yet another shark sighting…

Shaggy and wild-eyed, he stopped her and her dog at the beach.

“Did ye hear of the shark that bit the dog’s tail?”


“Aye, lass, it was a horror… just now.”

He leaned close to her ear and his voice dropped to gargling whisper, a smell of whiskey, tobacco and sweat.

“The shark… Aye, the shark!” He paused: “Therein lies the tale.”

— Yip

Mysterious Neighbor

some things are best not known

In the city, it’s not unusual for one to have only the vaguest of acquaintance with one’s neighbors. My current next door neighbor is an excellent example. He moved in perhaps two years ago, three years ago? One loses track, and our paths cross maybe two… most certainly not more than four times a year.

His arrival had been hardly noticeable. One day the old resident’s name disappeared from the mailbox. Then, some weeks later, a new name appeared. And oddly, a smudge blossomed above his doorway, as if someone had held, for a time, a candle too close to the ceiling. Or had it always been there? When we finally met, I didn’t ask about it. It was hardly important, after all, and that it had anything to do with him was pure speculation.

Over time, he was always cordial but closed. “Working hard,” he would reply to “How are you?” “Going to work,” he would explain if we met on the landing: an older, quiet, always neatly dressed gentleman with a vague accent that somehow evokes the eastern Mediterranean.

Some months (how many?) after he moved in, the smudge became an X… or is it a cross? When did that happen? I hadn’t noticed, but the possibilities seemed amusing somehow. I entirely missed the appearance of a second ‘X’ some indeterminant months later. When a third ‘X’ appeared, I was a bit flummoxed. When did this happen, or had there always been three?

Oh, but it isn’t my imagination. A few weeks ago, there were suddenly four.

He’s keeping score.


The Answer

The turbulent wind of an open convertible at highway speed rattled the envelope in his hand. It shook and bobbed like a leaf on a tree. From the driver’s seat, Maeve looked across the car. Soft spoken, her voice was hard to hear against the wind: “It’s from your father. Aren’t you going to open it?”

Was he? Dad could have called. He could have emailed. He could have knocked on their door. And he could have done that months ago. But now, a letter? What could that mean? With Dad, the medium was often the message; did he really want to know? Instead of answering, Dan sighed. After a moment he awkwardly torn the end off the envelope and extracted a sheet. It said:


Four months have gone by since we last spoke. I am doing something that I hadn’t planned to do, and that is, to make one more try if you will do the same thing also. I shall offer you what you wanted for a starter, so here goes. I apologize. Now, I expect you to come through with your part, namely, a two way, one on one, thoughtful, equal, sensitive and not insulting start at communication with an end goal of bridging over the gap which separates us. Agreed? Otherwise, J’ai fini, this time for real.


“What did he say, Dan?” Maeve asked.

Dan held the letter between two fingers while it gyrated in the wind. After a moment he let go and it flew away.

“Nothing,” he replied.

— Yip