pull up a chair

where wisdom gathers, poetry unfolds and divine light is sparked…

Category: newspapers

no reason ’cept she’s beautiful…

no reason cept she's beautiful

i guess maybe you’ll think you need to call the doctor. dial up some prescription for that poor lady who cannot haul herself in from out beneath the smelly bush.

oh, my, the neighbors soon will whisper. why, i saw her there, just the other night, they’ll say. all curled up and sleeping. didn’t seem to mind the rain. she lay there, drip, drip, drip. till morning. when she stirred, and stretched and, dang, she took another picture, that lady did. seems she’s up and lost her mind over that there vi-bur-num.

fear not, friends. it’s just that, well, i couldn’t very well tuck that lovely rain-laced beauty queen away in some old box with mothballs to keep it from crumbling. i had to lay it out, so you could see. sort of like when folks invite you in for coffee, then make sure to leave all the baby books right there on the cushions of the couch, and you can’t help but flip the pages and coo the mandatory ooohs, and ahhhs.

the other thing is simply this: it’s the very end of a long, long week, and looking at that picture (although here it looks a little fuzzy, which it did not before it landed here. oh, well…) is sort of like putting on your old holey jammies, the ones you would not wear out the house. the ones you would race to change, even before the fire fighters got there, if you’d had to call and beg their services.

it’s just a friday night, is all, and rather than curling up with ice cream and a trashy novel, i thought, oh, heck, why not wander over to the table. put out some new fresh flowers. pretty things up for the weekend.

this is, of course, that day we mamas wait for, yessirree. that day when we do the shopping, make the quiche, invite the friends, and call it mother’s day brunch. oh, wait. it’s not like that at your house? hmm. well, it is at mine.

mostly, i’m unwinding from a week that stretched my heart from here to there, and back again. my computer went kerpluey. which was not so very fun. no, not at all.

and, then, i stumbled upon a story so sweet and so delicious, i am still trying to get the drippy stains off of my chest. actually, they might be dried-up tears, because i’m not like those hard-boiled, tough-skinned news chicks on tv. oh no. i don’t pretend that it’s just a story, and i am there to scribble notes.

nope.

i fall hard sometimes. really really hard.

thing is, i realized this week that, for me, writing stories is the most fervent prayer i pray. it is wholly sacred, i tell you, to sit and listen as some fine someone unfurls her story. and i, collecting words like rosary beads, just snatch and string each one. bead after bead, story after story. until the tale is told.

when i’m in the gather mode, scooping up so many beads, i do ask a million questions. once, someone laughed and called me a human vacuum cleaner. hmm.

well, i do tend to ask for a few thousand teeny-tiny details. and, then, because i can’t help myself, i whip up my newsgirl lasso and swing it first in little circles once or twice, then i cast it out, wide and sweeping. often, this is where the things that someones say humble me to tears. if you listen long enough, you can’t help but hear some mighty wisdom.

other times i tiptoe on the ledge, inching close as i can inch to just short of that place where the teller of the story, would say, oh no. that i cannot, will not, tell.

when it’s over, when the last story is spilled, and folks are starting to yawn, i gather all my beads, sweep them up and stuff them in my satchel.

then, back home, i sit down before the magic keys and close my eyes, and pray to God to be that holy pencil, i so often refer to.

what i pray for, is that the pulsing beauty of the everyday psalm–as the brilliant chicago photographer, john white, once referred to the capturing of the uncommonly common street story–oozes through the words that just come spilling out, and fill the page.

then i send it off and wait. i have this little picture in my head. i imagine some sort of gold dust, from the spirit of the story’s essence, rubbing off, onto the fingers and the heart of every someone who takes the time to sit and pick up that day’s news, and, then, just happens to bumble on the one i stitched my heart in, and reads along, to the very end.

i imagine, this mother’s day especially, a whole city glowing gold, as, one-by-one, a story’s read and passed along. i imagine a whole city shining.

or at least that’s what i pray. and why i think the work i do each day is really nothing more than the finest prayer i ever learned to pray.

and that’s what i’m thinking about this lovely evening. lying here, beneath that raindrop-christened bush, where all is beautiful these smelly days and nights.

oh, and besides, the nice computer man told me to fool around here and see if he’d chased out all the critters that were gunking up the gears. so let me just push this one little button here, and see….

promise, soon as i can i will share with you the story that has me at once so giddy, and so very tired, this late late friday night.

it’s sunday now. the computer went kerpluey again. but i think we’ve now done the proper voodoo. at least i hope so. tomorrow morn, when all is quiet, and i am fully breathing once again, i will post the lucy story, and share with you the lovely bits that had to fall to the cutting room floor. ol’ dear mr. hemingway once said, a story is only as good as what’s left on the cutting room floor. and that fine maxim has been the novacaine to get me through plenty a painful cutting session. ouch. it always hurts. but this here blog, i now realize is a fine remedy, a way to still get to tell some of the pieces of the story that i think you’ll love. lucy trevino and her mama, rosa, are my heroes of this day. a more amazing love story i’ve not heard in a long long while….check out the tribune’s website today, or come back tomorrow, and i’ll have the story here….

the pigeon man of lincoln square

the police called me last night. a few times.

they were calling because an old man, an old bent-over man, one with a black canvas satchel slung over his shoulders, too-big janitor’s pants held up by suspenders, was shuffling along on a sidewalk, beside a busy city street, on a cold december tuesday, yesterday, at 2:15 in the afternoon.

probably, he was headed off to the fire hydrant, the red one, just by the bank at lawrence and western, where the pigeons, for years now, have counted him one of their flock.

the old man was walking, past a bank parking lot, when another old man, one driving a chevy van, pulled out of the lot. must not have seen him. the man in the van hit the one with the satchel.

the old man died.

the old man was joe zeman. but most everyone called him the pigeon man of lincoln square. cops couldn’t tell who it was. except for a newspaper story, one laminated, tucked in the satchel, one with a little rectangular label up in the corner, scribbled with the words, “for who ever.”

except for that story, one that showed him, in color, feathered with pigeons, one that told his story, the cops and the doctors who pronounced him dead at the hospital had no clue who he was.

the pigeon man’s life was like that. barely a soul had a clue who he was. mostly, only the pigeons.

that’s why the cops called me. they knew i knew a bit of his story. i wrote the one they found in his satchel. two years and three months later, almost to the day, and he still carried it–maybe half a dozen laminated copies of it–wherever he went.

the cops needed someone to call. needed to know if there was a soul in the world who might care to know what happened to joe.

there was no one, save for the pigeons. and me.

here’s just a bit of the pigeon man’s story, the one he carried till he fell down and died:

“except for the lips, you would think he was made out of stone, the man who sits, hours on end, on the red fire hydrant on western avenue, just north of lawrence, pigeons by the dozens perched on him.

“pigeons on his head. pigeons on his shoulders and right down his arms. pigeons poised on each palm. pigeons clinging to his chest. pigeons on his lap. pigeons on his thighs. pigeons, of course, perched on each foot.

“the pigeons peck and coo, occasionally flutter their wings. sometimes even scatter. but not the man, the man is motionless. you might mistake him for a statue.

“joseph zeman,” 77 when he died, “can sit for hours, barely flinching a muscle,” i wrote. “except for those lips.”

i wrote how he cooed right back to the birds. how he kissed them, right on their iridescent necks, flat on the point of their sharp little beaks. how he nuzzled them, rubbed his nose in their wings, the herringbone of feathers all black and charcoal and pewter and white. how he called them by name, his favorites. how he worried when one was missing in action.

i wrote how up in the attic where he lived a few blocks from the hydrant he kept track, in a neat little ledger, of whatever dollar bills might have been slipped in his hand, dropped by the side of his hydrant.

how he used the money for his pigeon supplies, the unpopped popcorn kernels, the bags of white rice, the loaves of deerfield farms enriched white bread, the maurice lenell oatmeal cookies, the plain old birdseed that comes in 50-pound sacks, which he broke down, each night, into zip-top plastic bags.

i wrote too, because he took me up to his attic, because he was proud to show off his deeply-thought method, of the old baby food jars he filled, each morning and night, with rice or popcorn, seven jars in all, and tucked in his satchel, each time he shuffled off to the hydrant.

twice a day, at least, once in the morning, once in the late afternoon, the pigeon man returned to his roost.

but the part of the story that’s stayed with me all these years was the part where he explained why he was drawn to the pigeons.

“all my life i had so much backstabbing at home, real problems there. i got to love the animals more, so trustworthy. fifty years, all i heard was ‘shut up, shut up.’ i needed help at home ‘cause i was handicapped. they took advantage of me. epileptic fits since the day i was born.

“because i had so much trouble at home, i learned not to say nothing, keep to myself. so they came up to me [the pigeons]; i appreciated the friendship out of a bird more than a person. they’re wordless. they come up with pure appreciation.”

zeman, who for 47 years ran a newsstand downtown, said that he considered sitting on the hydrant the most important work he had ever done.

“i’m really advertising to the public how easy it is to be good without an attitude; it’s just as easy to show decency as it is to hate today.”

zeman, a man without much schooling, understood how when he took to the hydrant, raised both his arms, palms upward–the veneration pose, really–as thousands of cars and trucks and smoke-spewing city buses rumbled by, drivers craning their necks to take in the sight of the stooped little man covered in pigeons, he really did resemble a modern-day st. francis of a city.

matter of fact, up in his little attic, he had boxes and boxes of st. francis postcards, each one printed with the peacemaker’s prayer: “lord, make me an instrument of your peace. where there is hatred, let me sow love…”

matter of fact, zeman once grabbed a stack of the postcards, maybe a hundred or so, and gave them to me. i tucked them all in the drawer of my desk, here where i do all my typing. i keep them, right there, to remind me of the wisdom of the lost soul who found his peace with the pigeons.

just yesterday afternoon, before the phone rang, before any cops called to ask what i knew, i had reached in my drawer for a calculator, and my hand ran into the stack, spilled and scattered, making a mess in the old pine rectangular drawer.

i started to shove the cards back into a stack, but then, for some reason, i picked up the top one, and i read it through to the very last line, which just happens to be, “and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.”

thinking back on the day, i know that the clock ticking beside me had to have been just after two in the afternoon.

that was the hour when the pigeon man of lincoln square breathed his last breath.

that was the hour the great gray raincloud of pigeons, the ones who for nearly 10 years had kept watch on the hydrant, had fluttered down as soon as a little stooped man slid off his satchel, settled onto his cold metal roost, raised both his arms, palms upward–the pose of st. francis–that was the hour the birds must have let out a most mournful coo.

this morning, for almost the first time in a decade, the hydrant is empty. the pigeons are perched. but the little man with the gentlest heart is not coming.

not ever again, amen.

oh, goodness. i’m back from my respite. and thank heaven there’s a place where i could tell joe zeman’s story. carry it close to your heart, maybe. scatter some seed for the birds today. think of the man who found solace only in the birds of the city, birds often shooed and thought to be pests. the picture above is my desk drawer. i too had a laminated copy of the newspaper story, one the pigeon man gave me. i keep it off in another drawer. but last night, i nestled it next to the prayers of st. francis. seemed the right thing to do, as i remembered the man who taught me so much.

i’m thinking i’ll pull up a chair, meander, at least every wednesday, smack dab in the thick of the workweek. but as happened today, what i thought i would write got nudged to the side so i could tell the pigeon man’s story. that means i’ll be back friday to tell the one i intended to tell today. we’ll find a flow here, as we settle into a rhythm that’s new. till then, just wander back when you can, you might find something waiting.

oh, and one other thing, thank you so much for the beautiful thoughts you spilled as the chair wrapped up its whole long first year. i am touched. deeply.

chop, saute, edit…

it is delicious, the way the day unfolds when i weave back and forth from cutting board to keyboard, in my slow dance toward dinner.

2 c. onion, chopped.

one story cobbled, edited.

1 sweet red pepper, seeded, chopped.

one phone call, dialed.

i am a writer who works from home. i am a mother who needs to feed children. i am also a woman who savors the adagio toward dinner.

as the january chill slipped in through the cracks and the crevices of this old house some time yesterday morn, and as i realized dinner would eventually be upon us, i walked into the pantry and starting eyeing the shelves.

black beans, i saw. grabbed for the bag. ticked through the means toward the simmering end, a bold steaming soup; beans the color of midnight, hot-sausage-studded.

and so the rhythm began: onions and garlic, chopped and sauteed. beans set to simmering. two phone calls made. story re-read, cut by 200 words.

there is something that soothes me, inhaling the onions, the garlic, the simmering beans. all the while tending to stories and editors and sources not yet discovered. knowing that dinner is coming the slow way. not something rushed in the 15 minutes before everyone crawls to the table, famished and grumpy and harried.

it is the blessing of working from home, stirring with one hand, typing with the other. it is rare, and i know it, to be home alone with the smells and the sizzles and the sentences growing.

i have given up much, not being in the newsroom. but i cannot imagine not being here where most everything matters. it’s my own cockamamie invention, the place where domesticity meets deadline. and i love every drop. (except for when i’m pulling my hair out.)

perhaps it’s the post-winterbreak quiet that, this week, is so particularly sweet, now that the big yellow bus rumbles down the lane and swallows up my littlest boy.

but what it really seems is that the broth of my life is richer, is deeper, when i’m here on the homefront doing two things at once. and doing one of them slowly.

as the sweet scent of the beans and the cumin rise from the pot and curl under my nose, i feel less like a mad scrambled mama, more like a soul who is blessedly tending my flock.

be it a soup or a stew or a fat roasting hen, there is a certain elixir in the kitchen perfume as it comes ’round the corner to me and my keyboard.

maybe it’s nothing so much as the sweet simple knowing that, while tracking down editors, i am aiming toward dinner, that most sacred time when we all come together.

more than deadlines and drafts one, two and three, it’s that time towards the end of the day that most deepens my soul. and when it unspools not in a rush, not in staccato, i am soothed, i am stoked by the slow dance to dinner.