I don’t know if you’ve heard, but this is an election year, a presidential election year. I post a lot on Facebook and Twitter about the election, and I get a lot of responses. All of them are adamant. The Biden supports are trashing Trump, and the Trump supporters are trashing Biden. This has been going on for about 4 years, and I expect it to go on for another four years, regardless of who wins.
For me, one of the interesting things about this whole Trash Fest is that when I was growing up I heard almost nothing about politics and elections.
My parents were largely uninterested in politics. They came over to America after World War II as Polish refugees, Displaced Persons. And as refugees, they took as much interest in American politics as they did in American sports or comic books. My mom and dad, like a lot of the DPs in my neighborhood, were too busy trying to figure out how to survive in this new world to put much time into reading up about Republicans or Democrats.
Don’t get me wrong. My parents knew there were elections and who the candidates were, and sometimes they even voiced an opinion. They liked Eisenhower a lot because he was the general who led the army that freed them from the German concentration and slave labor camps. They also liked John F. Kennedy because he was a Catholic, and that was something they shared with him. But other than that, my mom and dad weren’t interested in politics. I remember asking my dad once why he didn’t apply for US citizenship. He looked at me like I was a nutcase, and he said, “I was born a Polish citizen, and I will die a Polish citizen.” My mom, on the other hand, was a little more flexible about her politics. After I became a naturalized citizen in 1967, she asked me to help her become one too. I reminded her of what my dad was always saying about being born Polish and staying Polish, and I then asked her why she wanted to become a US citizen. She shrugged and just said, “I’ve been in this country for 19 years, and it’s time I become a citizen.”
I’m not sure why she ever became a citizen. She never took an interest in politics after she was naturalized. I remember asking her who she was going to vote for in local elections and in the national elections, and she’d just shrug again and say, “I’ll decide the day I go to the polling place.”
Me and politics?
I’m just the opposite of my parents. After being naturalized in 1967, I’ve voted in every single election I could. I not only voted, I also tried to encourage other people to vote. I’ve volunteered to work on voting phone banks, and I’ve gone door to door reminding people to vote, and I’ve stood outside supermarkets and walmarts handing out leaflets.
I feel it’s the absolute responsibility of every citizen to vote. As Chicago Mayor William Hale Thompson once suggested, we should all vote early and often.
My latest column for Dziennik Zwiazkowy, the oldest Polish newspaper in America.
August 14, 2020 — 134th Day in Quarantine
It’s been raining for about 80 days. I look out my window and see the gray wetness on the street, on the leaves on the trees, on my car sitting parked in the driveway. The sky is gray too. The only blue I see is in the shirt I wear most days and the cup I put my coffee in. It’s summer and soon it will be fall, but all I can do is sit here waiting for the rain to stop falling. I can’t mow, can’t walk in my garden, can’t sit on the back porch and drink wine. The sun has left and gone to some other part of the solar system.
My 11-year-old granddaughter Lulu who lives with us is tired of the rain too. She’s built herself a fortress in the rec room downstairs out of some old card tables and blankets. Days, she sits in her fortress and plays with her stuffed animals or reads to them from a Harry Potter book. Nights, she tries to sleep down there. She’s put a sleeping bag on the floor of the rec room and lies down. Lying there, she can hear the rain falling outside. A lot of nights, it keeps her awake. She pulls her stuffed animals closer and prays for it to stop. It doesn’t.
My daughter Lillian, her mom, pretends she doesn’t hear the rain. Most days and evenings, she’s on her computer, zooming with the people she works with. They talk about the work they have to do now because the rain is falling and falling. Like my daughter, they pretend they don’t hear the rain either, but I know they do. I can see it in the way they lean into their laptops for their zooms. Sometimes, my daughter or one of her co-workers will laugh about something, but I know they’re just laughing to cover up the sound of the rain falling against the windows.
My wife Linda hears the rain too. She knows it’s been falling for as long as it’s been falling, but she’s not like me. She thinks it will stop falling someday. Maybe not soon, but someday. Someday it will stop. She’s planning for that day. She sits in her easy chair with her laptop looking for vacations to the beaches in Virginia and North Carolina, cruises to the Bahamas, and weekends in New York City. She’s waiting for the day the rain stops, and she can drive up to Connecticut to bring her parents back here to visit. She knows the rain has been falling there too.
My latest column for the Dziennik Zwiazkowy.
The New York Times reviewed my new mystery Little Altar Boy, the 2nd Hank and Marvin mystery, and they liked it!
Here’s what reviewer Marilyn Stasio says,
In his novels, John Guzlowski — the son of Polish slave laborers in Nazi Germany — reimagines the 1950s Chicago neighborhood he was raised in, a place shaped by immigrants and strivers. LITTLE ALTAR BOY (Kasva Press, 323 pp., paper, $14.95) once again features Hank Purcell and Marvin Bondarowicz, the two veteran cops whom we met in “Suitcase Charlie” and are happy to see again.
This time out Guzlowski is taking on pedophilia among the clergy, and it’s not pretty. Sister Mary Philomena, a nun at St. Fidelis Parish, shows up at Purcell’s home one snowy winter night. “I need your help,” she tells him. “There’s something terrible happening. I saw it today … and it stopped me like a death.” What she witnessed was a priest molesting an altar boy, a terrified sixth grader.
A few days later, the nun is found stabbed to death in the cellar of the convent. In the classic procedural that follows, the cops choke down their own cynicism (“People don’t take that kind of accusation against priests seriously. Never have, never will”) to investigate a crime that officially doesn’t exist.
The book is available at Amazon as a Kindle or a paperback. Just click here
The Neighborhood Division: Stories by Jeff Vande Zande is the best book of fiction I’ve read in a long long time.
I’ve been a serious reader of novels and short story collection for pretty much my entire adult life (55 years at least) but I haven’t read a book as good as this one in probably about 5 years, not since Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch.
Vande Zande’s got what Donna Tartt’s got, an incredible sense of language, an ability to understand people, and a gift for creative narrative. In each of the stories in this volume, Vande Zande writes of people facing real problems that separate them from the people in their communities. In an early story called "The Long Run," for instance, he writes of a person lost while running in a new neighborhood. His simple story of being lost quickly evolves into a metaphor for his relationship to his wife and his father and the person the main character understands or doesn’t understand himself to be. Every other story in this collection is just as strong, just as satisfying.
I found this collection especially important in this time of pandemic because so many of the stories deal with isolation, real isolation and psychological isolation, and people trying to understand how they can make sense of the lives they are no longer connected to. Reading the book was like getting live reports from the pandemic world around me.
Jeff Vande Zande is one great writer, and I’m going to read another of his books tomorrow.
Here's a piece of the story "The Long Run" that I mentioned earlier:
He kept running.
A block ahead, an old man turned out of a driveway toward him, moving meticulously behind a walking stick. Andy stopped a few feet in front of him.
“Do you know where this road goes?” he asked, pointing. The old man turned and looked down the street. “Well--”
“I’m just wondering if there’s a back way into the Alpine neighborhood.”
The man turned back toward Andy. He put both hands on his stick and leaned. “Which Alpine?”
He looked thoughtful. “I’m not sure where that one--”
The sweat on Andy’s upper lip began to cool. “It’s where the old boy scout camp used to
The old man smiled. “Okay. I know where you mean, now. I was a part of that camp when I was a kid.” His forehead furrowed. “There’s a back way, but you gotta know your way around. Better off just sticking to--”
Andy told him that he wanted to make a circle so he didn’t have to backtrack. “You said there’s a way?”
“There’s a way.” He turned again and pointed into the distance. “Just stay on Third. It’s going to twist you through some neighborhoods, but you’ll come out on Lee. Take a right on Lee and go past East Ridge. When you come to West Ridge, turn in there and follow it around to Maltby. Take Maltby to Hamburg and that should get you there, but--”
“Lee to West Ridge, West Ridge to Maltby and Maltby to Hamburg,” Andy recited.
The old man nodded, dabbing his fingertips at the snow in his eyebrows. “What do you think of our April weather?”
Andy launched back into his run. “It’s not too bad,” he called back over his shoulder.
He guessed that the houses along Third represented the older part of the town – what it used to be before all of the Alpine Terraces, Vistas, Ridges, and Views began to spring up. The homes around him were small, neat, and not separated by acres of lawn. A few men were on a roof pitching shingles into a dumpster in the driveway. A plastic Santa Claus was still tied to the chimney.
Andy’s sweat held a skin of warmth around him. The cold and snow in the air did nothing. Starting to climb a hill at the end of Third, he checked his watch. Twenty minutes. His thighs burned against the hill’s incline. He clapped his hands a few times, encouraging himself. “Come on,” he whispered, smiling.
Just past the crest of the hill the road came to a T intersection. Must be Lee, he thought, but the sign had too many letters. The words came into focus. Meadow Valley Lane.
Andy stopped and caught his breath. Meadow Valley Lane curved to the right on his left and curved to the left on his right. It was flanked in both directions by newer builds that had probably gone up within the last five years.
Where was Lee? Andy shivered. He’d stood still too long. Turning to the right, he started running again.
Here's a link to the Amazon site about The Neighborhood Division. Just click here.
My pandemic poem Life in the Pandemic appears in New Verse News, a great online journal of poems about the news.
Life in the Pandemic
Things are slowing down.
It takes me 2 days to drink a cup of coffee,
A week to read a book,
A month to water the bushes we re-planted in June.
I move from one room to another
looking for shoes I haven’t worn in 2 months.
If I come across my car keys
I won’t recognize them.
I’ve stopped listening to the news
Stopped looking out the window
Stopped wondering what tomorrow
Will be like.
I started this poem in March
Maybe I’ll finish it
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