Writer’s Desk

IBM Selectric

Back in the 1980s, my brother Jerry told me about a writer’s group that met every third Tuesday in Beverly at 107th and Hale. So I joined the group because I really enjoyed writing and reading my works for this group motivated me to write. I met a lot of interesting people and I always looked forward to every meeting.

One of the poets, introduced me to her sister who just by chance had married a Mexican whose last name was Navarrete, just like one of my aunts in Mexico. The poet’s sister just happened to be a commercial artist. Eventually, she drew a caricature of me for my comedian’s business card. I remember that she was afraid to show it to me because I might think that she was making fun of me. I really loved it! It was exactly what I wanted. I was always proud of my business card.

Elizabeth-Anne Vanek was the president of the group and she was a published poet. She was the heart, soul, and muse of the group. Without her, the group would have disintegrated. I also met Marc Smith before he became famous for his poetry slams at the Green Mill. He came to many meetings and would read his latest poetry for us.

I also remember Frida who came to every meeting religiously and listened to everyone’s work patiently and then commented with objective criticism. She was a writer who didn’t actually write anything. She couldn’t write anymore. Her muse had abandoned her.

I also brought my friend Tony Trendl from the Marquette Park Track Club for a couple of meetings. I must admit that I did the most writing in my life while I belonged to this group. It was then that I started writing for The Finish Line and the Illinois Runner. However,  I never published any of my short stories that I read to the group. My writing improved immensely while I was a member of the Writer’s Desk.

And in another one of those cosmic coincidences that frequently occur to me. I now live right down the block from where the Writer’s Desk used to meet!

Olivia Maciel

Sombra en plata por Olivia Maciel

Olivia Maciel is a poet who was born in Mexico City, but has lived in Chicago a long time. She has written several collections of poetry over the years. She writes poetry in Spanish, but her books include an English translation on the facing page. I recently read two of her collections: Sombra en plata [Shadow in Silver], Chicago, Swan Isle Press, 2005, and  Luna de cal [Limestone Moon], Chicago, Black Swan Press, 2000. All her books are available for purchase on Amazon.com.

I first met Olivia in one of my graduate classes at UIC. We took several classes together while earning our masters degrees. She graduated from the University of Chicago with a Ph.D. When Octavio Paz died, she wrote an article about her reactions to his death that appeared in the Chicago Tribune. We occasionally bump into each other at UIC because we are both Spanish lecturers there. I really enjoy talking to her because she’s so creative. Sometimes, she begins writing poems as we speak. She says that I inspire her when we talk. I asked her if she would hire me as her muse.

Viene vestida de viento y perlas.

Bathroom graffiti

C'est une pipe

I have seen a lot of graffiti in public bathrooms over the years. Normally, I try to avoid public bathrooms altogether, but sometimes, nature calls at the most inopportune moments. I’ve used a lot of public restrooms over the years. Let’s just say that I’m a regular guy. Since I’m a voracious reader, I even read the graffiti while I’m sitting there. I remember a few gems more so than others.

I still remember, “Kilroy was here!” along with the drawing of Kilroy peering over the wall. I haven’t seen Kilroy in bathrooms in years and I really miss him. I always loved, “After every job, there’s always a little paperwork.” Another memorable piece of graffiti was the poem, “Here I sit / Lonely hearted / Tried to shit / But only farted!” Poetry doesn’t come any better than that! I still see this poem on bathroom walls from time to time. However, as a purist of bathroom graffiti, I hate when someone tries to improve on this classic poem. Anyone remember this poem scrawled over the urinal? “No matter how much you shake and dance / The last few drops are for your pants.” Where are the bathroom poets of yesteryear now?

Ixtapa-Zihuatanejo, Mexico

I read a lot of graffiti in the Lincoln Hall bathroom at University of Illinois at Chicago. Once, above the toilet paper, I read, “Get your UIC diploma here.” When Wayne Gretsky was really popular, beneath “Jesus Saves” someone wrote, “But Gretsky gets the rebound and scores!” Years later, in the same bathroom, I read, “The graffiti isn’t as good as it was 1978. It turned out my friend Vito had written that when he returned to college–again.

Once I had to go really, really bad. So I was sitting down in a public restroom reading the graffiti on the wall. I heard someone enter the stall next to me. I read, “Tap foot for blowjob.” Only then did I realize that I was tapping my foot! I stopped tapping my foot immediately and hurried up out of there. Phew! That was close!

When I was a police officer, I witnessed a wonderful exchange among a series of bathroom graffiti artists. Someone wrote “Bob.” Then, underneath, someone else wrote “Bill.” Then, someone else put a plus sign between Bob and Bill: “Bob + Bill,” implying that they were a romantic item. But another bathroom poet who didn’t understand the nuances of subtlety added the obvious: “Bob + Bill are lovers.” The next addition, however, was a stroke of genius! I assume either Bob or Bill penned the following masterpiece of a conclusion so that the finished text read: “Bob + Bill are lovers of all God’s creatures great and small.”