Time to Settle Accounts
October 24, 2011: Time to fly.
It was Sunday afternoon. I took a post-Bears game stroll to the Wicker Park to write in the time journal and do some reading. The air was delightfully warm for late October in Chicago, and I was dressed to the hilt of comfort: karate pants, unbuttoned cotton buttondown, white tee with “Robbie Freakin’ Gould” above it, sandals. Though this garb raises a few eyebrows in some regions, in this neighborhood it is standard fare.
The fountain was off, the park bubbling: soccer players and kids on bikes and conversation on benches and lovers on blankets and skateboarders and dog walkers, all running the gamuts of age and language. I wrote a four-page letter. The sun dropped behind me. A boy was doing circles on his scooter inside the dry fountain as his mother and her friend watched him and the other children, all splashing their palms and pant cuffs in summer’s final pool.
When I finished, I took a lap around the neighborhood, walking up to Damen and then taking Evergreen back to Milwaukee. The fallen leaves were soft against my toes, and I lifted a dead, disconnected branch that was balanced atop the live ones and snapped it inch by inch, dropping the pieces of twig on the sidewalk as I passed Nelson Algren’s house, and then the park again. At Milwaukee I turned left, wondering if I would see Gabe Carter…
…and yes, there he was on his yellow metal folding chair, in front of the Silver Room instead of his usual spot, guitar on his knee, wide-brimmed white hat on his head, cursive Chicago White Sox jacket on his chest, wispy pony tail, lazy beard, plucking light chords as he spoke with a friend.
“Hey Jack,” he said to me as I approached, and we shook hands.
“Are you a martial artist?” the friend asked me.
“Nope. Just a guy in comfortable pants.”
I met Gabe in July, I believe, though I’d seen him for months prior. He’s best known as Mississippi Gabe Carter, a bluesman with the wear of life, a man whose every word is love-torn lyric. His friend departs, and the Silver Room closes, and we sit and talk. He asks me about “that woman on facebook,” meaning Carrie, and I tell him, and I ask him about his women, and he tells me. His guitar is still balanced on his lap, a Styrofoam cup of coffee on the ground next to his chair.
“Great new spot. Much better than the old spot,” he says of his old spot, about two blocks northeast of here. “These guys love me. Business is great.”
“And the old spot?”
“Woman who lived upstairs,” he says. “Used to love me, and now she don’t.” He shrugs and sips his coffee.
“Glad it’s working out.”
“Yeah,” he said. “Might be time to go.”
“Won’t be warm forever.”
“I’m thinking Seattle.”
“For the winter?”
“You’re better off in a smaller city. Always do better in a smaller city. And Seattle’s a music city. Chicago’s a sports city, Seattle’s a music city.” He takes another sip. “I thought about L.A., but everybody’s trying to get something in L.A. You have to bring a circus to get people’s attention in L.A. Plus everybody drives. Thought about San Francisco too. But in Seattle, they have these big city blocks, and you pay a fee and they mark off your area. Nobody else gets to play in your area. I’ve got friends there. They say you can make $150 in an hour. Plus it’s temperate. It’s set up for rain. They put an awning over you, and you just play, even in the rain.
“Chicago’s too crazy now. Nobody has any money, and man,” he says. “You know, there are more hustlers out here than I’ve ever seen. Drug dealers, people selling bad paintings. Just bad.” He begins folding his chair and packing his gear. “Seattle. I tell ya, that might be the town for me.”
NEXT: The long goodbye. (10.29.11)
PREVIOUS: Because we’re dogs. (10.20.11)
***More on Mississippi Gabe Carter from ReadJack***
Time To Settle Accounts: A bluesman in Wicker Park. (11.07.11)