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Stuart Dybek reads from and discusses his book "The Coast of Chicago"

BROADCAST: May. 7, 1990 | DURATION: 00:45:54


Hearing Chopin being played through the pipes of another apartment and a tale about a young girl who died and whose father froze her body in an ice house are among the stories in Stuart Dybek's book, "The Coast of Chicago." Dybek explained that although his stories may seem dream-like, he tries to come up up with stories from some place of reality.


Tap within the transcript to jump to that part of the audio.


Studs Terkel Listen to this voice. It's a Chicago voice, Stuart Dybek, and to me, I think he's as close to Nelson Algren in capturing the lyrical voice of Chicago past and Chicago present at least in memory, as anyone. Stuart Dybek, reading from a passage from his new collection of worth more than short stories. All related in a way, we'll talk about that. It's called the Coast of Chicago published by Knopf. Stuart Dybek reading. Now, this is more a Stuart Dybek reads a sequence called Amnesia from a story. The bit, the long story in the book called Hot Ice- that's a memory in a sense, is more than just nostalgia here. It's something- it's something that was--

Stuart Dybek Well, I hope so, yeah--

Studs Terkel But is no more. In, in a way, this is from the book The Coast of Chicago. You talk about a certain community, a neighbor- an ethnic neighborhood. We think of Chicago, city of- neighborhood--

Stuart Dybek Right--

Studs Terkel Is a typical west- southwest side. It was, wasn't it?

Stuart Dybek Right around the courthouse. The jail on Twenty-sixth and California.

Studs Terkel And the jail plays a role here,

Stuart Dybek It does, right.

Studs Terkel But, and also beca- it, it was urbanly renewed, sort of. It was up

Stuart Dybek Sort of is the operative word there.

Studs Terkel Yeah,

Stuart Dybek It was urbanly renewed in, in ongoing stages that never seemed completed. And the, the neighborhood itself was- really seemed to be. And I think this is true of much of the south side, seemed to be weighted more towards industry than towards homes, and it, it seems that the homes were more the afterthoughts, so.

Studs Terkel And it, it- this is the neighborhood you remember, and it also was changing, had been primarily Slavic--

Stuart Dybek Right--

Studs Terkel Polish and Bohemian and a little German--

Stuart Dybek Some German--

Studs Terkel And then was becoming Hispanic.

Stuart Dybek Primarily Mexican, actually--

Studs Terkel And Mexican.

Stuart Dybek Right.

Studs Terkel And so this is the basis, you know, at, I think it was Joseph Coach of the Tribune, a very perceptive critic, or someone else who spoke who thinking of- of Winesburg, Ohio, of Sherwood Anderson, or of Dubliners of Choice--

Stuart Dybek Right.

Studs Terkel Course, they're not simply stories, they're connecting links, are they not?

Stuart Dybek Yeah, it's, it's, I, I kind of- What I was after was, was that out of the little fragments, some kind of an overall vision maybe would, would rise up out of the book.

Studs Terkel You know because I remember the previous book you wrote called- A great title, too: Childhood and Other Neighborhoods. And there's, there's an epigraph you use here. The--

Studs Terkel Out

Studs Terkel Out of the Machado quote. Yeah, I had the wrong quote.

Stuart Dybek "Out of the whole of memory. There's one thing worthwhile. The great gift of calling back dreams."

Studs Terkel So that's what you're doing here? Is calling back dreams, basically, isn't that it?

Stuart Dybek I, I guess I, I- That's what I try to do. Yeah--

Studs Terkel Because it has a sort of dreamy effect, right?

Stuart Dybek Right,

Studs Terkel You have brief- you have brief vignettes. I guess you'd call them--

Stuart Dybek Right--

Studs Terkel If there was a, on stage and then you have stories that are longer in length, but all related to this community.

Stuart Dybek Right.

Studs Terkel Babo and the boy, Babovitch! The very opening, very brief, it's about a street called Farwell, and a certain guy. And who is this guy? Because he represents-

Stuart Dybek Well, he, he's really a composite portrait. And I, I don't know if you remember the old Communist bookstore, but that, that kind of figured partly in there that was in that neighborhood. So it, it was

Studs Terkel The Modern Bookstore--

Stuart Dybek The Modern Bookstore. That's what it was called, right. The Modern Bookstore, Lou Diskin. So there's a bit of a composite between bookstore owners and professors and things, but I- you, you know, and, but, I did know a fellow who lived on Farwell.

Studs Terkel This guy you call Babo- Babovitch, this guy [who came here?]. That's what your book has throughout. A lot of old world and an industrial community and neighborhood, old world and new that it's, it's- the impinging. So it's a question of your grandmother and others.

Stuart Dybek Right, right. Well, there, there's also this, I think, this constant sense in Chicago that you talked about with the tiny neighborhoods that there's- It's a city of honeycombs with borders. And so as you move through the city and there's, there's repeated border crossings. And I, I think one of the things I was trying to catch was that sense of these, these little enclaves in the constant crossing, even just going blocks, you're crossing borders.

Studs Terkel And so it's like you're going in a different country.

Stuart Dybek Right.

Studs Terkel So we know there were many kids in neighborhoods, not just ghetto black kids--

Stuart Dybek Right, sure.

Studs Terkel There were kids in many neighborhoods then, and who never left that community.

Stuart Dybek Exactly right.

Studs Terkel Yeah, it--

Stuart Dybek And, and, and I, I noticed that in fact, when I was a case worker that it, it, it was irrespective of race, that, that it just- It just happened that the kids in the, in the- Let's see, I was a case worker around Thirty-ninth and Cottage Grove. They were within sight of downtown. A lot of them had never been downtown--

Studs Terkel Yeah.

Stuart Dybek And it was the same thing for us. The--

Studs Terkel Is that how it began, you were a caseworker?

Stuart Dybek I mean, this was later after I--

Studs Terkel After you started writing?

Stuart Dybek Right.

Studs Terkel Oh, I thought it was the casework that led to writing.

Stuart Dybek No, no, it wasn't. It was- the, the two kind of went on simultaneously. Caseworker by day, and I was scribbling by night.

Studs Terkel So in your writing, let's start. We have the picture of this guy. Just typical. A typical phrase here, not typical phrase. Atypical, I should say, but it's a Dybekian phrase. The old guy is trying to show the kid, the boy, you- it could be that guy George in Winesburg, Ohio--

Stuart Dybek Right.

Studs Terkel George Willard--

Stuart Dybek Right--

Studs Terkel Who was with Stuart Dybek here, where he says on page 5. Above his desk, the old boy tacked up a street mark map of Odessa, where he'd grown up beside the Black Sea. There were circles of red ink along a few of the streets. I didn't ask that night, but later, when I knew him better, I asked what the red circles mark. "Good bakeries," he said. That's what I'm talking about that--

Stuart Dybek Right.

Studs Terkel That aspect of it-- Exactly

Stuart Dybek Exactly right. Yeah, that, that was so true. And even where I, as I grew up, I mean, that we- you would have these enormous arguments- is whether Dressel's was better than the, the other Czech bakery and so on and so forth.

Studs Terkel And we're coming that the first, a story of such is called Chopin in Winter and this [unintelligible] has an old raffish grandfather that comes to visit--

Stuart Dybek Right.

Studs Terkel The narrator's mother, Dzia-Dzia, and there's a girl upstairs. Why don't you sort of set the [unintelligible]?

Stuart Dybek Well, it's a story about- I- Anybody who's lived in, in a huge apartment building, I think realizes that frequently, though your neighbors are behind doors, you constantly hear these whispered fragments of conversations. You smell their food, you, you, you hear their laughter, you hear their arguments. And I, I think that that's the sense that the story tries to capture. In this particular story, a young boy has a crush on a college-age girl who's had a, an obvious gift for music and is kind of raised out of her class. Her immigrant class give- because of scholarships, she's gone to Julliard, and she's come back pregnant, refuses to tell anybody who the father is, and he hears her playing Chopin repeatedly through--

Studs Terkel The neighbor's daughter--

Stuart Dybek The, the landlady's daughter--

Studs Terkel The landlady who's up, nex- apartment upstairs, probably

Stuart Dybek Right on the top--

Studs Terkel On the

Stuart Dybek top-- On the fifth

Studs Terkel And through the wa- that's so- It's voices and sounds that are your book that we hear through it. And so, in where, where you or this young kid lives with his mother and his raffish and colorful grandfather's been around.

Stuart Dybek Right, right. He's, he's, he's a wanderer, he's, he's come over as an immigrant, but he's really remained, remained a wanderer, and he, he drops in kind of out of the blue as he's been doing through his, throughout his life, wearing all his clothes at once, as these old guys were inclined to do. And while the boy sits at the table listening to Chopin filter through the ceiling, the grandfather begins regaling him with some mix of both family history and, and, and the, and his own fantastic stories. And so that kind of mix of the Chopin and the, and the girl and the grandfather and his stories become the, the life of the boy.

Studs Terkel The sound that old man hears. He's been everywhere. He's,

Studs Terkel Exactly right--

Studs Terkel He's been a--

Stuart Dybek Philippines--

Studs Terkel Gold prospector, a sailor--

Stuart Dybek Alaska--

Studs Terkel A sort of a self-educated raffish randy sort

Stuart Dybek Exactly right, yup.

Studs Terkel But hearing that intimation of music, the sound through the pipes. "Chopin," he says, "the grand vaults," or something. That sort of heats his blood--

Stuart Dybek Exactly right--

Studs Terkel And rekindles his memory, which, perhaps a little bit of that dial- Why don't you, sir, page 19. I'm thinking off hand--

Stuart Dybek Okay--

Studs Terkel Why don't you do the old bo- you do the boy, or why don't you read it? Each night, Chopin.

Stuart Dybek All right, this would be Dzia-Dzia talking.

Studs Terkel Dzia-Dzia's the old man.

Stuart Dybek Dzia-Dzia's the old man. That means grandfather--

Studs Terkel Oh, I, I, I- Oh, that means

Stuart Dybek [unintelligible] Dzia-Dzia and Busia--

Studs Terkel Dzia-Dzia- Busha grandmother.

Stuart Dybek Right.

Studs Terkel And as you write, he stood. He rambled on about a A flat and an E flat and sharps and opuses, and this kid's working on his homework. But something's happening at that moment--

Stuart Dybek Right--

Studs Terkel In that kitchen or that room there--

Stuart Dybek Exactly right.

Studs Terkel The old man is suddenly all that stuff buried is coming because of this strange girl he doesn't know upstairs.

Stuart Dybek Well, in fact, I think you never really quite 100% sure how much of the music the boy actually hears, and how much of the interior of, of the magical qualities that his Dzia-Dzia's giving it that he hears, but because it's coming through muffled and--

Studs Terkel Yeah--

Stuart Dybek But by the end of the, their relationship, he begins identifying all of Chopin's different kinds of music.

Studs Terkel See, it's as though. Yeah, that as you say, you don't know how much is heard. But even that touch again, you come back to that epigraph of Machado, that's used in the very beginning there.

Stuart Dybek Right, right exactly--

Studs Terkel And, the great gift of calling back dreams.

Stuart Dybek Right.

Studs Terkel If I were to choose one noun, one word to describe your story: dream-like, that is the realistic story we'll hear some more of the guys--

Stuart Dybek Right--

Studs Terkel You know, the narrator or the, the writer, this kid in the neighborhood, and, and yet there's a dream-like, calling back dreams.

Stuart Dybek Right. Well, I'd like them to be dreams that rise out of reality. That's so that, and, and what I like about that quote is the paralleling of memory and dream: two states that we wouldn't actually call consciousness. And yet each one, in, in its own way, is more, is as intense as anything that that we would call.

Studs Terkel Yeah.

Stuart Dybek You know, the, the here and now

Studs Terkel [unintelligible] that phrase used about Joyce that he was dreaming awake--

Stuart Dybek Right--

Studs Terkel [unintelligible] of razors. Dreaming awake--

Stuart Dybek Right--

Studs Terkel And that's in a sense is--

Studs Terkel Right,

Studs Terkel What you are. It seems to me.

Stuart Dybek John Gardner says that's what the, in his book The Craft of Fiction says that's, that's what the whole act of writing fiction is, is making a waking dream for the reader.

Studs Terkel Yeah and so the story, of course. This girl, don't know much about her, how she got in that trouble, and there's the shame. Now here's old or new world, too, but especially old world shame as part of it too, isn't it? Is there something you wanted to read from that?

Stuart Dybek No, I--

Studs Terkel Oh. I think about the old-world shame and also there's a touch here of something else, isn't there? She was going beyond her class.

Stuart Dybek Exactly, and that, her mother is very aware of that, that and is driving her to propel herself. And, and the, the tremendous disappointment her mother feels is because she, she sees this opportunity to have risen out- to really have joined America the way she has- the way the mother, who's an immigrant, has not been able to do when she's, she sees her daughter in- from her point of view, ruining her chances.

Studs Terkel Yeah, that's part of it, too, isn't it? Becoming an American but also knowing your place, strangely enough, right--

Stuart Dybek Right,

Studs Terkel But there's something about that piano, though, we know it. It's a three flat. Let's say a three flat, there's something like that, and she's the landlady- we know very often the landlady who's widowed, where the husband has worked. He may have been in the stockyards or the steel mill saved, and they become landlords and rent generator, the son-in-law and the daughter downstairs.

Stuart Dybek Exactly right.

Studs Terkel Someone else making it. But the piano. That's something else is in the daughter and piano, because that's that extra touch.

Stuart Dybek Right? Well, that's that whole, let's say the dimension of their dreams, or at least of the mother's dreams, that somehow the piano represents that touch of luxury, of art that, that really their lives, which are, which are so committed to survival. It's a risk for them to, to indulge in that artistic dimension.

Studs Terkel And so one day this girl called Marcy who was pregnant, disappears.

Stuart Dybek Right.

Studs Terkel We don't know where, and this boy, no one knows. And the old man sort of, he sort of fades out.

Stuart Dybek Exactly right.

Studs Terkel He fades out.

Stuart Dybek Right, right. So both of them disappear from

Studs Terkel And why don't you read on page bottom of thir- the ending of the story. The last paragraph that starts on page 32. This, the end of this opening story called Chopin and Winter.

Stuart Dybek Okay, this is, this is the boy now, after he's been deserted by both Marcy and his grandfather. "It took time for the music to fade. I kept catching wisps of it in the air shaft, behind walls and ceilings, under bathwater. Echoes traveled the pipes and wallpapered chutes, the bricked-up flues and dark hallways. Mrs. Kubiac's building seemed riddled with its secret passageways. And, when the music finally disappeared, its channels remained, conveying silence. Not an ordinary silence of absence and emptiness, but a pure silence beyond daydream and memory, as intense as the music it replaced, which, like music, had the power to change whoever listened. It hushed the close-quartered racket of the old building. It had always been there behind the creaks and drafts and slamming doors, behind the staticky radios, and the flushings and footsteps and crackling fat, behind the wails of vacuums and kettles and babies, and the voices, with their scraps of conversation and arguments and laughter floating out of flats where people locked themselves in with all that was private. Even after I no longer missed her, I could still hear the silence left behind."

Studs Terkel Yeah, hearing the silence behind, but also through these cracks that's the thing through these whispers.

Stuart Dybek Right. Well, that seems to me, and I love- I'd like the image of this story, because it seemed to me so true of, of, of so much human communication that, that we only hear those, the little--

Studs Terkel Yeah--

Stuart Dybek Whispers coming out. We don't--

Studs Terkel Yeah--

Stuart Dybek Really hear the full conversation. The full life.

Studs Terkel My guest is Stuart Dybek and he's a voice, fresh voice, a new voice. And I [unintelligible] the previous book, a beauty. Again, connecting this called Childhood and Other Neighborhoods. The new book is called The Coast of Chicago published by Knopf. And the comparison with Winesburg, Ohio, is a very, to me, apt one, because it is about this guy George Willard and all the impressions and dreamy aspects that he remembered.

Stuart Dybek Right, there was a, a real magical dimension that Sherwood Anderson, he

Studs Terkel had-- Yeah--

Stuart Dybek in that book.

Studs Terkel I suppose, I have to ask you about Nelson Algren, I assume he played a role in-

Stuart Dybek Well sure he did, he was, I mean, it would be hard to have grown up in Chicago and not to have been touched by Algren's work. But the book I remember the most strongly was, was his biggest one, The Man with the Golden Arm.

Studs Terkel The Man with

Stuart Dybek My brother, my brother and I. He was also a literary type of a guy. I mean, we, we just read that book--

Studs Terkel Yeah--

Stuart Dybek To one- We would read that book to each other--

Stuart Dybek Yeah--

Stuart Dybek At night. So, it was--

Studs Terkel Yeah. This has that connecting, and it's a, it's just come out. It's been getting wildly enthusiastic reviews, very much so. And they speak of the Chicago, the lyrical Chicago, voice of Stuart Dybek. [pause in recording] We heard that first story in the, the little ones. These little page and a half of memory flashed like that old guy Babovitch. We speak of--

Stuart Dybek Right--

Studs Terkel And you have another, a, a, a young, a young, a girl fainting in a church. Yeah, that has kind of an erotic quality to it.

Stuart Dybek Right, right, again, it's trying to catch some of those, just, just the feeling of those churches on Sunday in the little neighborhoods. You, you know when you talk about two and three flat places, when you go back to them. The scale of, you can see how the church manages to tower over these little neighborhoods, so that the scale of the neighborhood really does say something significant about the power of religion in those little ethnic enclaves.

Studs Terkel That's true, especia- especially in the ethnic communities, well--

Stuart Dybek Right.

Studs Terkel All over. I should say all neighborhoods--

Stuart Dybek Right,

Studs Terkel There's that steeple--

Stuart Dybek Right.

Studs Terkel Or sometimes round, you know. I remember an, an- Algren saying within the view of something of a steeple of St. Columbanus and the various names of the churches--

Stuart Dybek Right,

Studs Terkel Existed in the, in this case, primarily Catholic- Roman Catholic--

Stuart Dybek Roman Catholic--

Studs Terkel As well as the Greek Orthodox--

Stuart Dybek Right--

Studs Terkel Too.

Stuart Dybek Right. But when you see, I mean, when you see the skyline of Chicago, the, the, the steeples are now so dwarfed by corporate, corporate buildings. But in the neighborhoods, they're still these gigantic--

Studs Terkel Yeah--

Stuart Dybek They still kind of retain their old towering- That, that feeling of ascending. So, I think that that story kind of tries to cancel--

Studs Terkel That's interesting what you just said. In the neighborhoods, the building. The tall, the edifice, it's the church.

Stuart Dybek Right, right.

Studs Terkel And sometimes a round, sometimes angular, very often that roundish touching heaven.

Stuart Dybek Right.

Studs Terkel But in the, in the downtown, and the money there is- There is no such thing as the chu- that's the new church.

Stuart Dybek Right, it's just--

Studs Terkel That's the new temple--

Stuart Dybek Exactly right, they're just, these little steeples are dwarfed.

Studs Terkel Yeah, yeah. So, but, but this mass- The certain kind of masses you talk about too, even the different time for the masses had a different feeling.

Stuart Dybek Exactly right. The, the, the one in, in this particular story is- The kid thinks of it as the adult mass, and it's almost a fashion show. The way the parishioners are dressed--

Studs Terkel That was the 11:15.

Stuart Dybek The 11:15.

Studs Terkel Yeah. But then somewhere, you're the kid. You see this girl, and she faint- And toward the end, as they carry her out, because she'd fainted. You got that old woman in the babushka. Why don't you read that? It's kind of good. The Holy Name ushers were rushing from their stations, because she had passed out.

Stuart Dybek Right. This woman has- She, she has a habit of fainting just about every Sun- Sunday. And this kid has- He's enamored by her.

Studs Terkel Well that, right there; there's a picture. There's a painting. You see the old woman in the babushka pulling down- Because her dress, you know, as she was being carried, went up--

Stuart Dybek Right? Exactly, right--

Studs Terkel To her thighs. And also, there is that touch of radicism there, too, with this kid.

Stuart Dybek Oh, very, it, it should be very strong actually--

Studs Terkel Yeah--

Stuart Dybek Because he's, he's kind of already losing his faith--

Studs Terkel Yeah--

Stuart Dybek And he's just- She keeps him from being totally bored. And while everybody's praying, he's kind of, gently oogling this woman from the choir. He just keeps an eye on her. And, and, and, and- Which is the reason why more than any of the other people, he sees the stages of her fainting.

Studs Terkel Yeah. I was also involving his, his also falling away from the faith.

Stuart Dybek Exactly, right--

Studs Terkel As well--

Stuart Dybek Right--

Studs Terkel But also that picture of the old woman in the babushka--

Stuart Dybek Right--

Studs Terkel Pulling down--

Stuart Dybek Yup.

Studs Terkel You see that quickly--

Stuart Dybek Decorum must be kept.

Studs Terkel Yeah. But there's one sequence that almost all the critics talk about, and that's also the, the Death of the Right Fielder. Now we know about sandlot baseball games. The right fielder gets- He's the most, the least apt. He's the, the most inept.

Stuart Dybek Right in sandlot ball--

Studs Terkel Sandlot ball because fewer balls come [unintelligible] anybody.

Stuart Dybek Right.

Studs Terkel So this kid has an attack on the field.

Stuart Dybek Right.

Studs Terkel And they- There he is. He dies.

Stuart Dybek Right, well, they walk out there, and they find him dead. They, they wonder why all- I mean, the first sentence is after too many balls went out and never came back. We went out to check.

Studs Terkel Yeah.

Stuart Dybek This idea that balls would be hit, and nobody's throwing them back in, and they find him lying there.

Studs Terkel And where, where- that's all. I had the wrong page there. I'm looking for that page called Death of the Right Fielder. It's a short story--

Stuart Dybek Yeah.

Studs Terkel But

Stuart Dybek It's on page

Studs Terkel And then they- when they find him. But the part that's so funny, and you, you tell about how little- how little talent is needed to play right field. Say in contrast to shortstop or, or center field. But, on page 36 no matter who pulled the trigger, you don't know what it was it--

Stuart Dybek Right--

Studs Terkel May have been a heart attack or something. But in the middle of that page, 30- Why don't you read that passage?

Stuart Dybek Okay, they're trying to figure out exactly what killed him, and this- I think part of what this story's about is how you make myths and legends up in neighborhoods.

Studs Terkel That's a funny line and several- I think it was Joseph Coach, others pointed that out. Funny lad. Well, of course, leukemia is something special.

Stuart Dybek Yeah, not only that, but there have been so many shows in which--

Studs Terkel Yeah--

Stuart Dybek You know, a great athlete is, and, and, and tragically--

Studs Terkel Yeah--

Stuart Dybek It's been true, too--

Studs Terkel Yeah,

Stuart Dybek But, but it's, I mean--

Studs Terkel But they're, center fielders, you see--

Stuart Dybek Right, right.

Studs Terkel Or let's say, I say shortstop.

Stuart Dybek Exactly right. The glamor position.

Studs Terkel Star pitcher, star pitcher, not a right fielder--

Stuart Dybek Not a right

Studs Terkel That is not a right fielder on a sandlot game--

Stuart Dybek No,

Studs Terkel You see, so that see and also about losers didn't want to be identified with a loser. This is interesting. So, he denied being Cubs.

Stuart Dybek Right.

Studs Terkel But here, see, here's the part I like, and this is where that's Algrenian to me. He lacked the sense of humor for that, for being a loser, lacked the perverse pride of sticking for losers. Season after season breeds in the love. Now to me, that's what your story's about to because it deals with kids who were losers. A great many--

Stuart Dybek Right.

Studs Terkel They come to them-- Exactly.

Stuart Dybek Exactly.

Studs Terkel In that great story called Blight, and the big one called Hot Ice.

Stuart Dybek Right.

Studs Terkel Kids of a gang.

Stuart Dybek Right.

Studs Terkel But the loser, there's a humor. Come back to Algren for a minute. He'd always lose. I'm sorry, but he, he says, he's great at poker, but he's terrible. He'd lose, because he was a poet. Get me? Poets can't win at poker. Accountants win at poker.

Stuart Dybek Right.

Studs Terkel And so- But, losing had its own kind of perverse humor. That's what you're pointing out.

Stuart Dybek Exactly. And I, I mean, I had a, a group of friends that proudly referred to themselves as the screw-ups.

Studs Terkel Yeah.

Stuart Dybek And that was, you, you know, that was kind of how they- their identity came out of that. There's a line in that story, too, that has something to do with that, which, which is- The narrator wonders how many other great ones have gone down in the obscurity of their neighborhoods. And I, I like that idea. Just--

Studs Terkel Yeah--

Stuart Dybek You just never know how much--

Studs Terkel Yeah--

Stuart Dybek Talent really never makes it to the surface. You know--

Studs Terkel There's what in, in the story called Blight, which is- Before that you have these little- Again, these little one, two page reflections, and one is about the bottle caps.

Stuart Dybek Right.

Studs Terkel And we knew in this bottle caps, especially beer bottle caps were always saved. You get these great names of the past. But the see- he finds his kid brother though, has stolen a batch and uses them for what?

Stuart Dybek Well, he's, he- his kid brother is stealing his bottle caps, and he finally makes him confess why he's taking them. He says, "I've been using them as tombstones in my insect graveyard"--

Studs Terkel Yeah--

Stuart Dybek But again, it's that sense of ritual and that, you know, that, that legend that, that you just make up. You know, why, why is bottle caps become so important to a boy? And yet it- when you watch- Maybe girls do this, too, I just don't know. But I mean, I have a 9-year-old now, and I see him doing the same, popsicle sticks. You know, they become this.

Studs Terkel He spoke of ritual and legend, and, of course, that's what your book's about, too. Legends--

Stuart Dybek Right--

Studs Terkel Myth, that, that--

Stuart Dybek Very much--

Studs Terkel That-things called city myths.

Stuart Dybek Right.

Studs Terkel Yeah, especially when the parent- That's another kind of- as of an old-world becoming American--

Stuart Dybek Right.

Studs Terkel And the kid is the first generation born here--

Stuart Dybek Right.

Studs Terkel And that's a lot of this in it. So it's the old, new legend myth becoming, and also that dreaming, [in this part?]. So we come to Blight and- Blight, the very title itself because- So, it's- There's several people they have a little band of their own. There's a guy named Ziggy. Now Ziggy's- He's a little, a little off. I mean, a little strange, isn't he?

Stuart Dybek Well, Ziggy Zilinski, he's- he's the- he is going back to the- this religious idea. He's kind of the religious guy of the group. He's, he's off there in- He's a deeply- he's the kind of character who has a lot of empathy. He's worrying about the people starving in China and worried about bag ladies. Something that none of these other guys care about too much. He has prophetic dreams. One of his prophetic

Studs Terkel You know, as you say that talking to Stuart Dy- I think of something Woody Guthrie wrote in Bound for Glory. There was this guy during the deep, deep depression as you left Oklahoma, wandering and the [Utes?] were going off that that is the [Ute?] people kind of were going off. There was this one guy and the, and the and the drought is there, and this guy's "I see things." He's got a newsreel in his head. The guy, "You think I'm touched, like, [merely graze?]. You think I'm goofy?" He says, "No, you're not. You're prophetic, you see, the guy saw newsreels of all kinds of riots--

Stuart Dybek Right,

Studs Terkel And [things taken?]. So, Ziggy, is kind of like that

Stuart Dybek Yeah, he, he is. He's got. He- In fact, Ziggy is, Ziggy is of all these characters, the one closest to that sense of dream.

Studs Terkel Why don't you, you read that? At where Ziggy got hit on the head once, and he'd recount his dreams of- Why don't you do that on page 43?

Stuart Dybek When he'd wake up.

Studs Terkel Yeah, and then he goes, then he goes on to his--

Stuart Dybek Oh, after--

Studs Terkel To- Then he, he envisions all these things.

Stuart Dybek Right.

Studs Terkel Yeah. Zig had always worried about things no one else cared about. Like the population explosion, people starving in India, the world blowing up, we'd be walking along down Twenty-second, past an alley and Ziggy would say, "See that?" "See what?" "Mayor Daley scrounging through garbage." We'd all turn back, and we'd see a bag lady picking through the cans. But

Stuart Dybek it's Right--

Studs Terkel He knows. Urban renewal is going on in his mind. He sees it. So this is Zig, the dreamer, since you mentioned- It's very funny, you mentioned the fear, the atomic bomb. The night the Sox won the pennant. That was 1959.

Stuart Dybek Right.

Studs Terkel Well, we were up. WFMT was up on the, and I had a night show then. 1959. And Marty Robinson was engineering at that night, working nights WFMT 221 North LaSalle. And we came down, and he had the TV on; they beat Cleveland in the- And you got it here. You got a passage in here by the--

Stuart Dybek Right,

Studs Terkel [unintelligible] but that night, Police Commi- Fire Commissioner Quinn decided to sound the whistles and bell to celebrate the pennant, but the Cold War was still pretty strong then. People thought the Russians were coming, there's an invasion. People had heart attacks

Stuart Dybek Oh, sure. I, I- What killed me about it was I remember that that after all the drills, we'd had jumping under our desks at school and saying the rosary when the whistles blew and all the people stacking up cases of beer in their basement bomb shelters. What happened in my neighborhood was everybody ran out. They wanted to see it.

Studs Terkel Oh is

Stuart Dybek They were out there in their- I mean, they were crying and being

Studs Terkel They wanted to see the bomb--

Stuart Dybek They wanted to see the bomb.

Studs Terkel [laughs]

Stuart Dybek None of them followed procedures. They--

Studs Terkel But this was the time when the fireman- Fire Commissioner Quinn decided to sound the alarms. You got [unintelligible], and Ziggy wasn't the same after that.

Stuart Dybek No, poor Ziggy. He's had this prophetic dream, and here he is- The sirens go off.

Studs Terkel We gotta hear more of the stories, the dream-like stories. The calling back memories, stories, flashes of Stuart Dybek. Wonderful Chicago writer. The Coast of Chicago was his new book and by Knopf. [pause in recording] In that same story, Blight. You got a guy named Deejo, and he wants to write something.

Stuart Dybek Exactly right. The

Studs Terkel The Great American novel or something. I dig beauty--

Stuart Dybek Well, his great American novel starts with the line. "The dawn rises like sick old men playing in their underwear on the rooftops." And he's, he's kind of the writer of the group.

Studs Terkel But these guys are serious. The guy, because he's looking for words now- Their words. And they have this. They have this a band. They- they're also aware of the pop music at the time.

Stuart Dybek Right,

Studs Terkel But now the neighborhood changes. The gang changed that. Now there are a couple of Mexican American kids in the, in the gang now, aren't there?

Stuart Dybek Well, the drummer is a guy name Pepper Rasado. He's half Polish and half Mexican.

Studs Terkel So, so now the change is also making itself felt in the personnel.

Stuart Dybek Sure, exactly. Yup and--

Studs Terkel You're going to read a piece there. Weren't you?

Stuart Dybek I can read the, the [unintelligible]

Studs Terkel I like the- I like your reading from this. Well, that's the story. And also, there's a crazy dream to get this crazy Chevy and that's because they, they want to fix it. But finally, they have to get rid of it--

Stuart Dybek Right well, the transmission falls out on Thirty-ninth. So they push it off a railroad bridge--

Studs Terkel And, but in it is the guy's saxophone.

Stuart Dybek Right- They, they get so involved in, in this whole idea of giving the car a proper burial in the drainage canal that he forgets his saxophone is in the trunk.

Studs Terkel Yeah, but you mentioned Ziggy being religious will come to someone later on. Pancho--

Stuart Dybek Right.

Studs Terkel In the great, the great story, Hot Ice that won all sorts of national awards, as a story. But here he, he- you got him reading Thomas Merton. How, how did that- all of a sudden comes in? He's reading Thomas Merton--

Stuart Dybek Well--

Studs Terkel Hears about Gethsemani Abbey.

Stuart Dybek Exactly. He- This is after the sirens have gone off. It so shatters him that it, it- he has what, probably in those days would have been called a nervous breakdown. It- in, in his late teen years. And he goes back to his early religious training to try to survive it, and one of the local priests gives him Thomas Merton's book--

Stuart Dybek Yeah--

Stuart Dybek And af- as soon as he reads it, he realizes that he- What he wants to do is go to the abbey at Gethsemani and take the vow of silence. Course, the kids only 17 or 18-years-old at this time, but he- as of- in, in the story, he actually sets out on this quest.

Studs Terkel That Ziggy, a, a little again. We come to these brief things, these almost- They almost lead into the longer stories, these brief things--

Stuart Dybek That in part, that's part of the

Studs Terkel The mood--

Stuart Dybek Right--

Studs Terkel Like how you became you as a, how you became an usher. Were you a movie usher?

Stuart Dybek I wasn't. I wasn't, but I was a movie fanatic.

Studs Terkel Yeah--

Stuart Dybek It seems that movie stories keep popping up in everything I write,

Studs Terkel Well you have one, or you have several references to the movies. One was that surreal sequence. What's that called the surreal one [Guinea?] with these avante garde [musings?]?

Stuart Dybek Oh, Bijou.

Studs Terkel Huh?

Stuart Dybek Bijou--

Studs Terkel Bijou.

Stuart Dybek Right, right.

Studs Terkel Well you- And, of course, you deliberately take the name. It seems to me of a small town, a typical movie theater name of [unintelligible] in the century. Bijou.

Stuart Dybek Right, right. The, the earlier book had one called Horror Movie in which a black kid who's at- has lost his home, goes into a movie theater and- to see a horror movie just to get off the streets. And at the end of the movie, it's as if the monsters are chasing him down some south side streets, so it's- it's a re-occurring--

Studs Terkel Yeah--

Stuart Dybek Idea

Studs Terkel In this one the, the usher- It's just a page and a half that's very funny, [unintelligible]. The best description of what an usher does in a darkened theater, you know with the flashlight, "They taught him to tread softly on popcorn, to become a shadow as transparent as soundtrack music. So his corporeal body never eclipsed the projectionist's beam. They taught him how to slide among lovers." I like that, "taught him to swan dive a daredevil merger, Fred Astaire and Tarzan from the balcony over the audience of dreamers dreaming their one dream, and to gui- taught him to glide above their trance, searching for an empty seat." Part of a secret society.

Stuart Dybek Yeah.

Studs Terkel That's a good description--

Stuart Dybek Thank you--

Studs Terkel Of the usher with, with the- And so that leaves-

Stuart Dybek That was the job I always wanted, I think, to be an usher and--

Studs Terkel To be an usher and so of all sorts of influences on you movies. And, of course, visiting the Art Institute which leads, of course, to Nighthawks, which is quite obviously, a takeoff on Hopper's--

Stuart Dybek Right--

Studs Terkel Which the original, being in the Art Institute, that classic--

Stuart Dybek Right--

Studs Terkel That which, is my American favorite-- Same

Stuart Dybek Same here, actually--

Studs Terkel And so Nighthawks. Now this becomes something different- This story that has- with different subheadings Silhouettes and

Stuart Dybek Right. Well, besides the Hopper influence, the other influence was when I wrote that story, Chopin and Winter, which you talked about earlier. I'd listen to Chopin's music and the nocturnes were my favorites, and I thought, "How, how about if one tried to write a series of fictional nocturnes?" That is, stories that investigate night, are set at night, have the mood of night, and I think that's what Nighthawks is partly an attempt to do.

Studs Terkel And so that's what you- that's what you were doing. So from that you have, I was thinking, maybe you should read part of it- this. You speak of apparitions here, too, and there again, another aspect of the dreams you're talking about apparitions. And it's just, I'm thinking of [unintelligible]. There's no one part. Others had their own name for shadows. Oh, that's again past. It's funny. I know what I'm thinking of. I'm thinking of myself looking at Nighthawks, and I'm talking to a younger guy who was a writer- that Hopper's Nighthawks. To me, it's a memory of this diner below the hotel where I lived. An all-night policy- all-night diner--

Stuart Dybek Right.

Studs Terkel And there was the guy bending- that counter man as you see in the painting. And I remember this guy Al or whatever his name was- a counter man bending and a couple of loners sitting there at night. And sure enough, there was a woman outside under a light. You know, she was a, a hooker.

Stuart Dybek Right.

Studs Terkel [Time there?]

Stuart Dybek Well, what I love about that painting is that if anybody has ever seen the diner knows that that's a very accurate representation of a diner. And yet, it's surrounded by this magical light. So it, it combines those two dimensions the real and

Studs Terkel the-- Yeah--

Stuart Dybek And the fantas- and the magical.

Studs Terkel And it's the light that accentuates the loneliness--

Stuart Dybek Right. Oh, sure--

Studs Terkel And again we come to those figures. But there's now- we come to the detachment of Hopper that you have in the stories, and the memory of it there. And yet a lonesome valley idea. You gotta cross that lonesome valley--

Stuart Dybek Right, yeah--

Studs Terkel And in the old neighborhoods and the changing one, and this finally leads up to the actual visit toward the very end. Leads up to the actual picture, doesn't

Stuart Dybek Right, right.

Studs Terkel But in the chapter, the, the sequence called Insomnia, part of the Nighthawk book on page 96. Perhaps you could even read just the couple of passages there.

Stuart Dybek Alright.

Studs Terkel Page 96. See, some of these sho- stories of Stuart Dybek have sort of subheadings, yeah.

Stuart Dybek Well, the first paragraph tries to catch that Hopperish feel in Insomnia.

Studs Terkel And because there again you have. You think there's a connection--

Stuart Dybek Right--

Studs Terkel Looking for- not, not that--

Stuart Dybek No, right--

Studs Terkel And you did. Because, I assume, this is autobiographical. The, the chapter of the, the paragraph just before the one you started reading in Nighthawks but in the previous--

Stuart Dybek Set in the Art institute.

Studs Terkel Yeah, I would. I

Stuart Dybek Yeah, actually it is, it is, it is, it is autobiographical, and, and there's, I think it- that painting is even heightened because- I, I mean, my other favorites there are the Impressionists, but then you're, you're so full of these light and gardens, and suddenly you confront this dark, dark painting, which has a different kind of light, and it's- it, it even magnifies the

Studs Terkel Why don't you read that on 95 that last- the paragraph?

Stuart Dybek Yet I was up, "Yet I would always end my walk through the paintings, standing before the diner in Edward Hopper's Nighthawks. Perhaps I needed its darkness to balance the radiance of the other paintings. It was night in Hopper's painting; the diner illuminated the dark city corner with a stark light it didn't seem capable of throwing on its own. Three customers sat at the counters as if waiting, not for something to begin, but rather to end, and I knew how effortless it would be to open my eyes and find myself waiting there, too."

Studs Terkel Yeah, it's funny. It has that, that longing to it. That- we're talking to Stuart Dybek and before the hour's up we got to get to that story called Hot Ice, which is a classic, and this is a collection of- I guess, say, short stories. And yet they're all related, aren't they?

Stuart Dybek Well, I- You know, I kind of try to make a distinction between a collection and a, and a, a collection of stories and a book of stories. I'd call it- Dubliners, a book of stories and I'd call--

Studs Terkel Winesburg--

Stuart Dybek Winesburg, a book

Studs Terkel It is a book of stories.

Stuart Dybek I, I- I'd like it- to think it--

Stuart Dybek

Stuart Dybek I Was a book of stories.

Studs Terkel Well others do, too. The Coast of Chicago is the name of it. Knopf, the publishers. [pause in recording] You mentioned Legend, the opening sequence of Saints.

Stuart Dybek Right.

Studs Terkel There's always a story, a legend somewhere that's supernatural.

Stuart Dybek Oh, yeah, I, I think that's part of--

Studs Terkel And this about- tell about that girl, who's sort of a saint.

Stuart Dybek Well, the legend in this story is that a, a girl has died in the Douglas Park Lagoon, and her immigrant father has found her body, taken it on a streetcar, and he's the owner of an ice house. And he's- his grief has made him seal her in a block of ice. And then, over the next generations of people in the neighborhood begin ascribing miracles to this saint who is now sealed in a block of ice. The, the implication is that she kind of died defending her virginity against a couple of guys who had her out on a rowboat.

Studs Terkel And so she's a- and the story is- there's a guy, Big Antek, who drinks a lot, that worked in the ice house--

Stuart Dybek Right--

Studs Terkel And he gets caught in it, and it's the warmth, as I understand, he sees her--

Stuart Dybek Right--

Studs Terkel This virgin in the block of ice, and it's her presence that warms him.

Stuart Dybek Right.

Studs Terkel And keeps him from freezing to death, and the ow- the owner comes and says "You're fired." That, that's how the legend begins.

Stuart Dybek Right.

Studs Terkel And now we come to the guys in the- by the- You know, Nelson's Algren's short stories. The Devil- How the Devil Came to Division Street--

Stuart Dybek Oh,

Studs Terkel I

Stuart Dybek I sort of--

Studs Terkel Yeah, you knew that--

Stuart Dybek Oh, sure

Studs Terkel I'd thought of that, because there's also a legend--

Stuart Dybek [unintelligible] exactly right.

Studs Terkel That comes. So now we come to the guys, and there's Pancho and Manny, his brother. Now Pancho is, I take it, a Hispanic kid. Is--

Stuart Dybek Pancho and Manny. They're both, they're both Hispanics--

Studs Terkel Yeah--

Stuart Dybek They're brothers.

Studs Terkel And, and the other kids are there--

Stuart Dybek Eddie Kapusta--

Studs Terkel Eddie Kapusta--

Stuart Dybek He's Polish--

Studs Terkel Who's- Eddie's sort of this- the connecting link figure, Eddie.

Stuart Dybek Right.

Studs Terkel Close to you. I'd say, Eddie, in a way--

Stuart Dybek Probably, yeah, it would be easy for me to identify with.

Studs Terkel But we come to Pancho, and we- The background of this whole story is this legend- the girl--

Stuart Dybek Right--

Studs Terkel Buried in that block of ice--

Stuart Dybek Right.

Studs Terkel That's the background. And now we come to the real life with these kids. Pancho is a very religious kid. He looks like an angel as

Stuart Dybek Well, he's a beautiful looking kid--

Studs Terkel Yeah--

Stuart Dybek For, for one thing, and the nuns have- The nuns have loved Pancho, but even though he's a religious kid, he's also gotten caught up in the dope dealing that's gone on in- the drug dealing that's gone on in that neighborhood. So, he's got two sides to him--

Studs Terkel Yeah, and so he's up in court. His, and his brother--

Stuart Dybek Manny--

Studs Terkel Manny, is the cynic, but it's Pancho who is the one who ends up most destroyed.

Stuart Dybek Oh, exactly right. In fact, the judge, even as he's senten- sentencing Pancho--

Studs Terkel Read

Stuart Dybek Says to him. You're gonna be too pretty to send to jail--

Studs Terkel Read that. Oh, is up on page 134.

Stuart Dybek Alrighty.

Studs Terkel He's given the old- by, this is Korea time, isn't it? Shortly after Korea--

Stuart Dybek Vietnam--

Studs Terkel Oh, it's Vietnam time. And so--

Stuart Dybek What's happened at this point is that Pancho has already been incarcerated in the- in the- in Bridwell.

Studs Terkel That's Algrenian. This is to me [unintelligible]--

Stuart Dybek It is, it is. But you know, I, I grew up by that- by that jail--

Studs Terkel Yeah--

Stuart Dybek And, we used to go listen to the trials for, for, for fun--

Studs Terkel Did you live near the jail

Stuart Dybek Yeah, yeah and, and we would actually go in and listen to the- You're not allowed to do that anymore, because they, you know,

Studs Terkel metal But that was the neighborhood. And you got the guys. And of course, you have crazy scenes, and yet so real- the hollering--

Stuart Dybek Right--

Studs Terkel Up at the walls--

Stuart Dybek Right--

Studs Terkel Trying to irritate the guys. And the inmates hear them--

Stuart Dybek Exactly--

Studs Terkel And they think these guys are calling back, and their dirty words and everything--

Stuart Dybek Right,

Studs Terkel That's part of--

Stuart Dybek Right--

Studs Terkel Their living, and the factories- That's crazy calling to jail. That's a crazy sequence you got there. But then there's grief [unintelligible] where did Pancho go? What happened to Pancho? And as you got that, you got city life. This talk of smelt fish, the smelt. We know it's part of the Chicago scene--

Stuart Dybek Right--

Studs Terkel The fishermen there. So you have a crazy combination here, don't you? There's, there's the church. There's Pancho, the altar boy, the beautiful kid who is completely out of it and lost.

Stuart Dybek Right.

Studs Terkel There the factories looking like jails, and jails like factories, and it's all in it. And finally, it leads up to the very end. The boys, the legend still haunts them. The virgin preserved in the cake of ice, and Big Antek is now getting older. He, he believes it by now, doesn't he? The, the old boy who worked there--

Stuart Dybek It, it seems that, that by the end of the story, whether Antek has made it up or not, Antek has come to believe his own- his own myth, his own legend.

Studs Terkel And so, he leads the boys to the i-ice house, and they had-- Right--

Stuart Dybek Right--

Studs Terkel Now they'd been drinking quite a bit--

Stuart Dybek Right, right--

Studs Terkel And here's the part, isn't it? Where there's no words - that completes the circle, doesn't it?

Stuart Dybek Yes,

Studs Terkel The boys are

Stuart Dybek The, the story starts with a legend and ends with them investigating the legend. They're

Studs Terkel They're gonna- They wanna, they wanna capture that girl, the saint--

Stuart Dybek Right--

Studs Terkel The saint. Really in a way in that block of ice.

Stuart Dybek Oh sure.

Studs Terkel And they steal that block of ice, isn't that it?

Stuart Dybek Right.

Studs Terkel Yes. See, this has great in a funny, crazy way comic overtones to, sad comic. And, why don't you read that? It ends with legends. And the last part, they're stealing that, and they want to bring her back. I suppose to where she drowned.

Stuart Dybek Okay, right. Well, well they're, they're, they're going to drown her properly, I suppose, is what it is. They're going to release her into the lake, which is this, this image of some kind of a pure body of water for them.

Studs Terkel Yeah, that's how it ends, they had a [they wanted to?] drown her, properly, rowing like a couple of sailors. The legend is she was with sailors--

Stuart Dybek She was with sailors when she was first drowned--

Studs Terkel When they tried to assault her right and the boat capsized--

Stuart Dybek Right, right--

Studs Terkel And so they're rowing, like a couple of sailors. We're talking to Stuart Dybek. It's a very beautiful book of stories.

Stuart Dybek Thank you,

Studs Terkel And that's it. The Coast of Chicago. Knopf, the publishers, and it's a beauty. Thank you.

Stuart Dybek Thank you.