April 10, 2020: “Constant Volume” by Peter Anderson

Good Friday to you, Story366!

It is Good Friday, by the way, which kind of snuck up on me. Adjusting to this new at-home model has left me lazy about the world in general. I’ve been getting used to the idea that time and calendars and such don’t really matter. All my courses are online now, with broad due dates for assignments and random postings, so my job doesn’t require me to know the time, barely what day of the week it is. Same thing with the boys’ homeschooling. Each of their schools has posted a packet to follow along with, but they’ve also said that this quarter isn’t going to count for a whole lot, basically begging for us to not do anything. We do do things, but again, on our own leisure.

Given that I’m not as beholden to the clock and calendar as I used to be, it’s no surprise that I forgot this was Holy Week, that this Sunday is Easter, until a day or two ago. Karen reminded me that we need to get a ham, so I ordered one. We need to color eggs, but have to wait until we get the Paas kit tomorrow. We did buy some Easter candy for the boys’ baskets this past weekend, but I left it in the trunk and it melted when it got up to ninety the other day. Tragically, we’ll probably be forced to eat it, outside the realm of the basket system, soon. I had hints, but I wasn’t connecting the dots.

Maybe that’s best, as Easter is reminding me of one thing: We won’t be travelling to Chicago to see my family, simply because we can’t. The lockdown prevents us from doing so, as it will for months to come. This means, mainly, we can’t visit Grandma, can’t give her hugs, and certainly can’t spend Easter with her. Ugh.

Admittedly, we don’t always travel to Chicago for Easter. It’s usually at a bad point in the semester, a few weeks of classes to go. More than than, we usually don’t get much time off, just Friday, today, disguised as “Spring Holiday” on the academic calendar, so the state university appear secular. Even with the extra day, we’d have to be back on Monday, for the boys’ school, for my classes, and for Karen’s job at the paper. The last two times we drove to Chicago for Easter, we left Springfield on Friday, spent all day Saturday doing the family Easter thing, then left for Missouri again on Sunday morning, driving away our Easter. Two years ago we ate at a Denny’s at a truck stop. The time before that, a Mexican restaurant. No fancy Easter brunch or home-cooked ham when you’re on the road.

I’m not saying I wish I’d forgotten Easter, that it came and went without me knowing, just so I wouldn’t have to miss my mom. That’s silly—when I woke up and the baskets were in my living room, I would have figured it out, anyway. But this year might be extra-tough, the idea I couldn’t go to Chicago if I wanted to. And boy, do I want to.

Speaking of Chicago, for today I read from Peter Anderson‘s 2018 collection, Where the Marshland Came to Flower, out from Kuboa Press. This is a book of stories about Chicago, my hometown and the author’s as well (though both of us seem to be surbanites by birth). While I can’t travel to Chicago this weekend, it was nice to visit via Anderon’s collection.

Each story in Where the Marshland Came to Flower takes place in a different Chicago neighborhood. If you’re not from Chicago, you might not know that the city is unofficially cut up into different areas and communities, the number of which is debatable. One source I looked up said “at least 59,” while I also found a list of over two hundred. Sometimes each neighborhood is cut up into different subneighborhoods, like when I lived in Wrigleyville one summer: Really, Wrigleyville is part of Lakeview, but some maps list them as separate entities. I also lived in Uptown one summer, though someone I know who lives in that same building now swears they live in Buena Park. Here’s a couple of maps, one more dissected than the other:

Anyway, each of Anderson’s stories takes place in a different neighborhood. Since I haven’t lived in every neighborhood—I haven’t even spent a summer there since 2011—I’m not 100 percent sure that Anderson nails the “feel” of each of these places with each story. What he does do for sure, however, is get the geography right, each story filled with streets, El stops, and landmarks that match up on the map. I doubt Anderson has lived in all of the neighborhoods, either, but I thought he was convincing enough.

The lead story, “Prime Time,” takes place in Humboldt Park, west central, a neighborhood with a large Puerto Rican population—the local high school was named after Roberto Clemente when he died in the seventies. In “Prime Time,” we follow Mario, a high school wrestler whose mom makes him cut his hair, despite his protests. Most of the story takes place in the local barbershop after school one day, Mario getting a lesson in neighborhood politics, and life, from his barber and friend, Manny.

“Eyewitness” takes place in West Pullman, on the south side, where the Pullman Car Company company used to reign large, since the downswing of railroads, this area has seen rough times. This story features Mrs. Winters, a woman who witnesses a gang turf fight from her window and calls the cops. A young officer, also from the neighborhood, comes by to take her statement. The two reminisce about old times, about the way the neighborhood used to be, but won’t be ever again.

“Bullets and Steel” takes place in the Loop, basically the downtown, the stock and banking area. This story is about Drew, a young banker, who befriends a homeless vet in a wheelchair. Drew does the old vet a solid after his friends nearly run him over and treat him like shit.

The story I’ll focus on more today is “Constant Volume,” and is about George, a handyman/super-type who works and lives in a building in Rogers Park. Rogers Park is the northernmost neighborhood along the lake, south of Evanston and containing Loyola University. George was recently laid off from his bus mechanic job after 9/11, nobody taking tours to New York anymore. His friend gives him the handyman job with one warning: He’ll have to deal with the Loyola students who crowd the building.

George likes his job, his free apartment, and doesn’t mind fixing things, something he’s good at. He has to deal with these snotty students, though, spoiled slobs that he has to be nice to. They’re loud, ungrateful, and call him and ungodly hours, to fix things they’ve usually broken because of drunkeness, stupidity, or both.

This leads him to Denny’s apartment one day, the day of the story, to fix this and that. Denny is one of the aforementioned drunken slobs, a kid in his first apartment, taking full advantage of bachelorhood. He and George know each other—Denny has had things fixed before—so they feel comfortable chatting it up. Their topic this day? Denny has to read Howard Zinn’s People’s History of the United States for a class, and, well, he doesn’t like it.

The story from there is a conflict between the classes. On one hand, there’s Denny, a kid going to a private school, living in a nice neighborhood in a nice apartment, all on his parents’ dime. He’s hating on the working man’s view, hating the fact it even exists. He wonders why they’re reading Zinn’s book in college, as he thinks it’s clearly a text written for the naive, perhaps even children. So, Denny’s the bourgeoisie and a wannabe erudite. And he’s either completely unaware he’s talking to a handyman, or perhaps he’s rubbing it in, how above it all he is. Maybe he’s even trying to put George in his place.

On the other side there’s George, who’s just there to do his job, who just wants to get back to his apartment and watch a TV show. And not have to talk to Denny.

I won’t reveal how Anderson rounds out this story, but in the end, “Constant Volume” tells a tale, and a good one, about how classes meet and sometimes don’t mix. As said before, I’ve never lived in Rogers Park, but this feels like a genuine representation of this neighborhood, the locals clashing with the college kids; like any college town or area, it happens. Townies hated us when I was at Bowling Green; locals here in Springfield tend not to acknowledge MSU. So, I liked this story for this reason; it’s why I picked it when I could have written about any of the ones I read.

I enjoyed visiting Chicago today, not for ham, deviled eggs, Polish sausage, and butter shaped like a lamb. I instead basked in Peter Anderson’s sincere tales in Where the Marshland Came to Flower. I know I’ll read the rest of this book, visit the other parts of the town, some of which I’ve actually visited, some not (good thing I have those maps). Anderson’s book is as good at capturing the character of Chicago, piece by piece, as any book I’ve read. Kudos to him for sharing it, for bringing me home.

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2 thoughts on “April 10, 2020: “Constant Volume” by Peter Anderson

  1. I’ve read this collection, and my brother lives in Rogers Park, so I feel some connection. Equally as good is Anderson’s novel, Wheatyard, which takes place in an unnamed college town in Illinois and involves a meeting and not-quite-clash between two types of people.

    Thanks for this review.

    Liked by 1 person

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