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**PRINT: FRIENDS FROM CINCINNATI: Installment 24 features this part coming-of-age short by Chicago's Patrick Somerville, author of the Trouble collection of shorts out in 2006. | PAST BROADSHEETS |

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Todd Dills

15 Feb 2003, 2200 West Devon Avenue

Our arrival is predicated, rather, is at the mercy of traffic. Cars line up in the cold -- Devon Avenue is closed five blocks east of anything even resembling a demonstration. We park by the commuter tracks and begin to walk, talking more of Norman Mailer, of how cold it is, walking, wind beating at our backs now coming in from the east, a curious reversal of fortune, after the traffic, now, as we are walking west and the frigid air pushes us along the walk until we are forced to stop by a gloved hand at a crowded intersection. Cops direct cars in the opposite direction, away from where we are going, across the intersection and away, far away, for there is madness to behold, the man's hard, blind eyes seem to dictate, madness in that direction. A crowd begins to gather, ten to fifteen to near thirty souls of whom we are now a part, but we continue to talk. Of Norman Mailer I have decided again and for the third time, likely -- the first being in conversation long ago with Mr. Eric Graf, atop my roof on a reasonably chilly night, nothing like the cold today -- that it is one of himself, yes, a Norman Mailer that me and mine need, someone enough outside of what folks term 'the movement' to see to the ugly bottom of it and what the rush is a motion against, what's really there, not oil or thievery, not even money, necessarily, not these near tangibles, but pride and contempt and want and greed and hate and all the intense humanity of the shit, all of which must, of course, be exploited before it can be quelled, drummed up into an inferno before the calm succeeds it. Do you honestly think that there is shred of anything that can be said to resemble love between, for instance, the mutant, nuclear Bush circle and those high-toned English?... Has a Civil-War-invoking Southern politician ever had heartfelt sex with a New York liberal? It's doubtful, and though here I wouldn't put the possibility of anything past the influence of time.

Time, they say, is the answer, but I don't believe them, as a great crackhead once sang in screaming finale.

We walk with the crowd block after block after block and, stopping again, now we push to fifty and more and the talking has almost stopped, but not quite, and I think and speak still of Mailer, a man so prideful and arrogant that he wrote an entire book about himself in the third person. Mailer, whiskey in the coffee mug in his hand and himself gesturing and wailing his brutally absurd exhortations, filling himself full of the moment before a crowd, 1968, a demonstration to beat all demonstrations (I have, of course, read a bit too much in my time -- my expectations run high and soaking wet)... And I am thinking of Mailer, and his whiskey, particularly, again, when I realize: I have forgotten my flask. Earlier, after a brief spar with the sleep that simply couldn't continue, considering the late morning hour, I filled the chrome thing full and set it upon my desk, where it remains, far away and tragically absent.

"Shit," I say, wind whipping against my face just as the crowd comes into view. The talking comes to a full close as we veer off the sidewalk and into the street, coming full upon the rabble, a big group, certainly, though not that big, hundreds, maybe a thousand. Though as we stand and the speechmakers make their rather unaffecting speeches (an alderman prodding for community one-ness, a man with an accent addressing the local issue of choice, today -- INS deadlines for Pakistani immigrants, many of whom, sadly, will likely be deported -- a lady with a slightly rousing manner, though none of whom we can see through the abundance of signs, which adds a decidedly surreal aspect to the view back in the crowd: NO BLOOD FOR OIL [being the most prominent message, repeating itself a good 15 times here in my field of vision], DROP BUSH NOT BOMBS, PEACE NOW, the one I wish I'd brought: BUSH MUTANT NUCLEAR AGENDA, and etc...) the crowd grows and grows to indeterminate size, and I'm regretting regrettably the forgetting of the flask, though there is something...intensity building almost imperceptibly as the speechmakers speech on and the crowd shouts approval. A slight ripple in the air. A deathmarch band of trumpets and drums banged and blown by men and women done up in skeleton garb (I suspect Lumpen enthusiasts, God bless them) punctuates the final speech with loud blowing and banging. Our lead banner, a tattered, purple thing done up with some illegible, foreign slogan across it's center slowly makes its way through the crowd. I can see it coming this way, wobbling on above the heads, some of the other signs which remain high. Wobblng, the banner, purple and fucked and goddamned illegible, and I realize presently that I am directly in its way. But no matter, for the men carrying each side of it part and the crowd parts with them into a kind of circle and I am stuck alone in with nowhere to go and now whiskey, there in the middle and the purple passes over me. I shoot a glance into the sky cut in two by the thing and, despite the cold, I'm warm for just a moment.

People begin to move; movement, march, march, the skeleton band bringing up the vaudevillian wild shit at the rear...brothers in arms, yes, I'm just walking, walking and people are chanting and men are watching and white women are taking pictures and women in headscarves are hanging onto the shoulders of each other for support, chanting themselves. I am dizzy with lack of food and water and cold so I duck into a grocery, grab some chocolate and head back out. We are not afraid, ladies and gentlemen, not afraid, have never been, though Hunter Thompson shout it to the sky (he's prodding us, you know, and that's a good thing), and in spite of the woefully-titled 'Patriot Act,' which allows the U.S. government to detain not only a terrorist or his/her partner in crime but anyone who even associates with 'an anarchist idea' or a 'nihilist author,' nevermind the idea or author him/herself. No, we are not afraid: we are plenty angry, though, insane with rage and pleasure at being so cold out here in the streets and still chanting along, though in truth my mouth remains closed and, by the end of the whole thing, amid the curry stench rising up from the Indian and Pakistani restaurants lining the road, the riot cops idly chewing the cud atop there magnificent horses, I am so positively deranged with cold that I begin to mock the chants 'What do we want - PEACE - When do we want it - NOW!.. etc. I look over and see a Pizza joint and yell the word 'Pizza' instead of Peace, quickly echoed by a woman in front me who laughs and points and proposes the idea that the pie-shaped sign on the parlour's front would make a perfect thing for her child to be carrying: shall we go rip the fucking thing down? we think as one. It sounds like a great idea, really, though we do not do it. And had we, who knows, maybe the place would have gone shit-crazy. An idea best left for later, drunker days.

Three days passed.

Today Mr. President made a statement (and I apologize for paraphrasing, but I am quite tired just now and forgetful) such as this: making decisions about war based on protests is like basing policy changes on focus groups.

It is, of course, quite likely that his analogy came off a good deal less eloquent than the above, but you will comprehend the gist. The smug gremlin. He will hate us all, likely, before it's over, hate the Americans, even the servicemen, with his entire being, if he does not already, like a robbed and beaten leprechaun.

Meanwhile, Norman Mailer is, I believe, still alive. Hey man: we try.