Thursday, August 26, 2004

Me: Metalman


I'm making this costume for an upcoming party.
I have the head-mounted circular sawblade so far...
any other suggestions?

~ Connor

Sunday, August 22, 2004

Definitely Pirates, by Elisabeth Blair


Elisabeth won a fifth of rum from me, simply by submitting her page and a half on pirates vs. ninja. (Last months blog game.)
I will be posting my rebuttal shortly.
Here it is:

* * * * *

Definitely pirate.

What was that guy doing anyway, the guy
The one in the pew in front of me with a bottlecap
Finishing off whatever water it left
while some bad photography was flipping through its little slideshow?
All I know is it saved both me and Kristian.
What little there was to look at was on a shoulder, with
Whatever that guy was doing with his mouth

And anyway green is my favorite color. Last summer,
I mean October,
I meant to be a pirate entirely in green,
But ended up being Sleep.
People liked it anyway, in a gay club later that night my pink cloak
Was the star of the night, because it was so easy to swing about.

Jack Tar was a cheery, willing, and brave sailor, a Victorian character. “[Sailors] were the folk heroes of their day – like the cowboys, footballers and spacemen of our own century.”
Tar was put in between ship floorboards.
Made from old rope. Punished sailors spend time caulking, or picking rope apart.

Who is more exciting than an enemy? Well, pirates are sailors’ enemies.

But both kinds of seamen - enemies and folk heroes - were incredibly fit, beautifully aching with health, lowering themselves on ropes, roll-washing their clothes, with boxes in the supply shop of the (folk-heroes’) ship that were stenciled CANDLE-SPERM SIGNAL
Those guys ate ‘essence of beef’
And the exciting thing is that pirates, pirates we really don’t know about. They were too mean, but you know they must have eaten the same kinds of things, and you know they must have been really fit too.

I mean these people – sailors -
Slept in something that doubled as their coffins. I mean I don’t know
What pirates slept in,
Because the only book you’ll find on them in the gift shop
Is a coloring book,
Which is the best reason I can possibly give,

And the second best reason is that parrots are amazing, and I watched a guy in a pew in front of me stick his pet parrot’s entire head into his mouth,
Then finish the water in the bottle cap after the parrot had had its fill,
And ever since then I’ve thought long and hard about how much I want a parrot, one that is most importantly
Bright green.

Friday, August 20, 2004



A couple points first:
~ If the photos here seem to be better than what I usually post here, it's becaue they're not mine. I took my camera to California, but wasn't able to procure any film until the last day. Jama McMahon has agreed to let me post some pics she took throughout the week.
~ Most of what I'll write here is from my journal. That's because I'm in a hurry, and it'll probably be more interesting than what I'd come up on my own today, given that I'm tired and uncaffeinated.

* * * * *

"I saw plains, mountains, canyons and desert. I listened to Romeo + Juliet, R.E.M. Reveal and Automatic, read the Jungle, tried to sleep. Hallie picked me up. We rode to Ojai. I took a 4-hour nap and got up at 2:30 PM. Hallie, Lacey, and I watched an episode of Queer Eye then headed to the Happy Valley. My dorm room is cold as fuck! But huge and gorgeous. We look out over a hill above the soccer field, miles of oranges, and the mountains lining the northern edge of the Ojai valley."

After settling into my room, the conference converged on the Zalk theater, and we introduced each other, then went to the barbecue dinner outside. Then, down to the Yurt (which incidentally, is from Kyrgyzstan), the drinking of much Corona, and an early night.

* * * * *

"On Monday I sat in on rehearsal for For Reele by Stephen Belber. I read in the part of Opal. I blogged and worked to revise Canaryville Blues." That night was open mic night at the Yurt. Again, much Corona. I read the first chapter of Adrift of the Mainstream. The reaction was divided between affirmative and confused. Several people seemed to think it was set in Chicago and not Flint, and several seemed to think it was autobiographical. But then, I was reading very quickly, because I wanted to get through the whole first chapter.

My favorite moment was when Bast dies on, like, page 4. Someone gasped. I love that.

* * * * *

"On Tuesday, I was moved to A Map of Doubt and Rescue by Susan Miller...
The play... it's a play of power and majesty and confusion. Unable to define its subject, it attempts to circumscribe it instead. The danger is familiarity. The problem with first steps is the assurance that lapses . hesitations. No second step. All sorts of shit like that. I learned this over the course of that week."

Explanations are difficult. This play, though, was why college first-years write abstract conceptual plays that are terrible, because they are using an abstract conceptual vocabulary. Susan's play is essentially abstract. But her characters are people with jobs who lose people and talk about things. This is what college first-years are told. And rightly so.

I should explain what I was. I was the Production Assistant at the beginning of the week and the Literary Assistant at the end. Despite the difference in title, they were the same thing. I was somewhere between the student interns and the stage-managers. Unlike the interns, I was free-floating between shows, going wherever an extra brain and pair of hands might be needed. Unlike the stage managers, I had responsibities that varied from day to day. In the end, I was much less busy this year than last, which was occasionally frustrating. Still, I got to work on a very exciting play with one of my very favorite directors and acutely sensitive and experienced actors.

It's the most I could fairly hope for.

"Meanwhile, I'd been in anxiety about setting up a reading of Canaryville Blues. I wanted to hear... was initially ambitious. Hallie helped. We went for food in late night Ojai."

"It's hard for me to be politic sometimes. I try to treat everyone the same, or at least equally. Which is problematic when you're supposed to be... deferring to age and experience.
Others have different ways than me.
I was anxious.
I talked with Hallie about careers and future and... all... you know."

Before this, the symposium. I saw Luis Alfaro in three pieces and a journalist describing his experiences in Iraq. Luis drank a lot of tequila.

* * * * *

"On Wednesday... more. Drilled on Canaryville Blues. The playwright Julia Jordan went to the Oscar Wilde Center. Doug drove Scott, Claire, and I to the cast party."

Rum punch and Corona. Some people became intoxicated.

"In the end I hung arund in the library with the cast of Map until it was very late." Then we went home.

Last year, the party scene at Ojai was far more raucous. I became close with Abigail, Karen, and Kevin, and a couple others. This year was not as broad, but more deep. I felt the play "in my heart," and made true friends. My friends were the interns, and the actors and staff of my own play.

Here, I'll show them now.

The interns are mostly high school students, each working on a different play. We hung out at most events, sat together at the plays, at lunch, and after the Yurt on any given night. From left to right, Claire, Jama, Joel, Kaley, Scott, and Stephanie.

These people are awesome. One'd like to that think one "matures," that as one ages he learns to stick to people about his own age, to remain balanced, centered in life. I can't help it that I keep meeting awesome people in their teens or forties. It happens.

Incidentally, Scott is more like John Bridge from Urbantasm, behavior-wise, than anyone else I've ever met. He isn't an asshole like John. And Scott stumbles more frequently. But other than that... maybe if John were to have a younger brother.

The other group of people I most connected with were my cast.
I can't post a picture because of Equity* regulations.
But the cast was Judith, Karen, Leo, Liza, Michael, Nealla, Paul, and Zach. They were so different but became close so quickly. And they all waived their special privileges to work their asses off on that show.

I spent a lot of the week in awe of all these people I met.

*Ask me if some unions are less effective than the UAW, and I'll inform you that the answer isn't very equitable.

* * * * *

Thursday. "Frenzied revision. Symposium #2: Charlaine. Susan. Nikolle. Denai. Too much emotion. Too fast. Then, the reading of Canaryville Blues. Doug was Patrick and Lacey was Kidd. Brian from Happy Valley was Cranks and Claire was Carlotta." The other parts, Pat and Marcos, Katherine and Cassidy, and all of the others, were read by the interns. "It needs much work, but I am not worried, because I can see clearly."

"After the reading, we went down to the Yurt." And then stayed up late, talking.

* * * * *

On Friday, we saw White Bicycle by Keith Bunin and Peter Parnell and In the Continuum by Nikkole Salter and Danai Gurira.

Regarding In the Continuum: I almost cried. I could breathe. The last fifteen minutes of the play, I heard in their voices the voices of friends and family, suffering bitterly, suffering unfaily. There is a kind of art that physically afflicts you, like a punch in the stomach or a slap across the face. I mark shows to which I respond like that. Dream 2 of the 7th Dream at Flint Youth Theatre... April 1996. The end of Act I of The Iphegenia Cycle at Court Theatre... September 1997. And now this.

In the Continuum stung me like a hornet. I told Nikolle and Denai this at the Yurt.

And again, some of the interns and I stayed up late and talked.

* * * * *

On Saturday.

We saw For Reele and the Little Locksmith by Linda Hunt.

"That night I took a flashlight and walkman and walked out to the haunted hill with the red chair."

"I danced for Eventime, tracks 1-5, and marveled at DISTANCES.

On the walk back through the brush, the flashlight broke and coyotes howled."

Earlier that night, Scott and I had moved the furnature from the basement rehearsal room into the McMahons' room, but they thought it was Scott and Joel. They wrote with red lipstick on maxi pads and stuck them on the boys' door. My door remained untouched. This is what happens when you are composed and rational with people. ;)

* * * * *

"On Sunday, Scott and I met Kurt Beattie (one of the directors) at six AM, and went walking into the mountains. Crumbling mud and dry stream bed. Poison oak. Ah, me. The blue sky was so blue above. We made it hundreds of feet up."

We drove back for the tech rehearsal of Map.

"I saw Dark Yellow.

"And I've already said: "Map." Can you tell I'm exhausted and mentally raw and emotionally ragged? After Map of Doubt and Rescue we had the final party, goodbyes. Hallie and I returned to L.A."

And that will be the content of the next post.

Here are some more of Jama's pictures:

Chairs that were nightly sat in.

Below: Me looking scruffy with the interns.

Below: Me looking scruffy with Abigail, Susan, and Jama.

I didn't shave at all that week. In California, with my complexion, one arrives at a salt and pepper and chili powder face. "Ick."


Wednesday, August 18, 2004

Before Ojai


It's been awhile since I straight up said what's happened lately.
The last time I really wrote in detail was around the end of July, when I got back from Flint. It already seems to have been a long time ago.

Midway through that week, I got the call from Advanced to go back and work with Ortho again. I accepted understanding that I really needed the money and that I wouldn't find a job before going to Ojai.

That weekend Dan Suberviola visited and stayed with me. We had a role-playing marathon on Saturday, and I shoved through Canaryville Blues, which I'd drafted by tennish Sunday night. Before finishing, I went for a walk about my neighborhood, along the vacant lots just north of the Orange Line, and then Hoyne Park, and I walked south to McKinley Park where all the families sat out with picnics and music from their car stereos. I got back.

That week, of course, I tried to stay afloat over the work going on. And managed. I cleaned my room on Thursday night. Friday morning was a graceful summer morning; cool and silvery bright. After work I went home, and Jessica and I quarreled some, which was frustrating. We celebrated our "anteversary"... one year before our wedding. We had a bottle of white wine the Kennedy's gave us and lemon chicken. Then we drove to Andersonville for a walk and drinks at Kopi. I had Milk, Ice Cream and Orange juice drink, and Jess had an espresso shake. Very sort-of magical.

On Saturday, Jess and I read to each other for much of the morning. We stopped at Unique and bought me several Hawaiian shirts... that's my new fashion by the way. It's all about Hawaiian shirts. We went to a party for Lisa and Liz and Co. at Armand's. We picked up Elisabeth on the way. Much talking. It's hard to breathe much life into these descriptions when I feel like they took place on the other side of the moon now, though really it was only about ten days ago. But then Jess and I went back to her place, quarreled some more, and did my laundry for the trip. Then, at two AM, we drove back to McKinley Park, and I packed, then Jess drove me out to O'Hare.

On the way, we passed an accident that hadn't been cleaned up.

A man lay in the middle of the pavement, spasming, while his head and shoulders was held still in another man's lap. A car lay nearby, it's drivers door sheared off. The police and ambulances were just arriving.

Jess dropped me off at around 4. I waited at O'Hare with my McDonalds coffee, and two hours later, my flight left.

~ Connor

Wednesday, August 11, 2004



Just to reorientate yourselves, I'm posting this at 8:38, though for most of you who will read this, the time is now 10:40 or 11:40.

I'm in Ojai, California. At the Ojai Playwrights Conference.

I'm pretty much busy dawn to dusk, but I still think it's likely I'll be able to slip in here and post something new (I got pulled away by the whole Canaryville thing for awhile). So expect something new! ;)

~ Connor

Monday, August 09, 2004

Canaryville Blues, Part III: Writing Canaryville


EUPHEMISM. Part 6. "Carlotta Tames the Wild Onion" Chapter 40. Section B. aka




Patrick O’Connell, white* male, 22
Katie “Kidd” Finn, Irish American female, 19
Mary “Sis” Finn, Irish American female, 10
Bridgett “Mom” Finn, Irish American female, 38
Patty “Gramps” Finn, Irish American male, 62
Carlotta, white female, early 30s
Maurice “Cranks” “Leavitt” Branson, black male, 72
Marcos Ortubez, Mexican American male, 18
Katherine O’Toole, Irish American female, 20
Cassidy Freeman, white female, 28
Pat Keening, white male, 20
Bridgit Rodriguez, mixed female, 21
Ricardo Campi, Colombian American male, 22
Maria Sanchez, Mexican American female, 19


Scene One: Monday afternoon
Scene Two: Monday evening
Scene Three: Monday night

Scene One: Wednesday afternoon
Scene Two: Wednesday evening
Scene Three: Wednesday night


Time: October 2002.
Place: A basement bedroom. Canaryville, Chicago.

* Variation in racial/ethnic specificity between characters is a result of self-perception, and doesn’t necessarily mirror reality. The Finns have been in the U.S. for over fifty years, and even Marcos immigrated over a decade ago. The characters are described as they would describe themselves, such designations being of central importance in Canaryville.

* * * * *

I first became fascinated with Canaryville in October 1998 because 1990 census data indicated that the qrea was the highest concentration of Irish Americans in Chicago, despite the high-profile "Irishness" of Bridgeport and Beverly.

I was also intrigued because of the involvement of the meatpacking industry, historically. The industry was lurid and exciting because it had 1) a tragic end on the South Side, similar to GM's departure from Flint, 2) a complicated and tortured labor history, 3) was for a century on of the nation's largest multicultural melting pots, 4) practiced a bizarre and morbid function; the slaughter of tens of thousands of heads of livestock daily, 5) the above all leading to a crazy and wide-ranging body of literature including The Jungle by Upton Sinclair and St. Joan of the Stockyards by Bertolt Brecht.

I wrote two pages of a rough draft of Canaryville Blues in late 1999 / early 2000 for a playwriting class. The plot had a similar structure, but was only very sketchily drawn. The characters and setting, however, have been of continuing interest to me. It seemed a logical choice for revision when I spoke to Dan Gerics about submitting a script for Flint City Theatre.

It in included in my novel Euphemism through its connection with the nefarious character "Carlotta" and her involvement in events depicted in the "Euphemos Cycle" (ie. Euphemism).

* * * * *

Anyone interested in reading the script of Canaryville Blues can send a request to

Friday, August 06, 2004

Canaryville Blues, Part II: Hearing Canaryville


The pictures featured in the last post were taken on Tuesday, July 27th.

I walked to Canaryville via McKinley Park, Pershing, Racine, and Exchange. I photographed the Stockyards Arch and Bank, walked south on Halsted photographing the International Amphitheatre, Hart Plaza, and the remnants, than wove my way east and west, heading back north to the tracks.

Canaryville is an exceptionally small area, never more than a half-mile east-west and barely over a mile north-south. Thus, my photos encompass the area's sights pretty well.

However, I tend to think that, for the purposes of writing, such an exercise is only of limited use. You really need to hear about people and places in their own words. So... the next day, I returned to Canaryville after work, this time to meet people.

* * * * *

I walked north to 43rd St., took a breath, and stepped into Kelley's Bar. The bar was long and narrow, and ran straight back to a sort of enclosed outdoors terrace. When I stepped in there were only three or so people there, middle-aged men. Televisions hung over the bar at both ends. One ran game shows and the other, baseball. While I wasn't greeted jovially (who would want to be, frankly) the place didn't ooze that Bridgeport/Canaryville hostility I'm always warned about.

I stayed for over an hour, drinking three Old Styles, watching TV, eavesdropping, and writing notes in my journal. Here is what I wrote:

milk Crazy cash hash cigarette smokin' an' sitting on the porch. Watching tv. or playing pool. music and video. MTV. games. SDs. hot summer. late july. (...) Real dialogue. The thing we talk about. Listening isn't sufficient. Who doesn't notice what it. is down here. Brecht. Sinclair. Long days. So it goes.

I think, from the pairing of names near the end that I wasn't getting that much deeper than the skin. I listened to the people that came and went... they were stereotypes: thick Chicago accents, loud, homophobic, and sports-obsessed. Moderately polite and sober. I wasn't getting much deeper than the skin. The exercise was useful, but I needed to speak with someone... not just listen in. So I left.

* * * * *

One block later I encountered a woman on the street. She had flaming red hair and a bit of a wry smile as I approached her. As we passed, I said, "Excuse me, do you mind if I ask you a question?"
Her: ~ "Ask it."
Me: ~ "Have you lived in Canaryville long?"
Her: ~ "Born and raised. I grew up here. I went to school here."
Me: ~ "Because I'm a writer and I'm supposed to come up with a story by this weekend and I decided to set it here. But I don't live around here. Would you mind telling me what it's been like... living here and growing up here."
Her: ~ "Follow me."

And we started walking south.

The conversation was actually very broad, which was fine, because I was still reeling with the old style. Basically, the woman explained that she had grown up in Canaryville (she appeared to be thirtysomething), that it had been very nice but had gone downhill with the recent ascendence of two gangs, one north of 47th and one south. She was a tough kid, though, and now that she had her one baby and one on the way and a good guy behind her, things were looking up. "Canaryville's a good neighborhood," she said, "Everybody knows everyone else." And sure enough, she seemed to greet everyone she encountered on the street.

She was moving fast, though, and I came to learn that we were going to a site where some kids and some bangers were being interrogated. "I know all the kids," she said. What was going on, I asked. She answered that Canaryville had gone downhill since the gangs emerged. She was exhibiting a reluctance to tell me in more detail. I said a little bit about my own upbringing; I'd grown up in Flint's East Village, which was also a nice neighborhood. But some of my friends lived across Longway, on the East Side or the North End. There, things happened... things I saw. So she explained:

"Couple days ago a kid got beat with a baseball bat down on Union and 46th."
"Was it gang related?"
She nodded. "It was because that kid pulled a knife on one of the neighborhood kids."

We arrived at 46th by the tracks to see the police talking to three or four boys, while another dozen people, more kids and neighbors stood by and listened, several houses down or across the street. Finally, the police put one of the kids, Z., in the back of the cruiser and drove off.

At this point my guide had bigger fish to fry, but she left me in the care of her friend J. and her husband M. Together with a couple of their kids, we walked to J.'s house, where I drank sweet iced tea, made new friends, and talked for hours about life and Canaryville.

* * * * *

S.'s house was one of those narrow and tall frame-based houses, probably built originally around the turn-of-the-century and cheaply and sporadically upgraded on numerous occasions since. It just goes to show that wood-frame houses survive in Chicago, and some aren't even doing too badly.

The house was very clean and tastefully appointed on the inside; it almost reminded
me of the house aunt keeps. Like many Chicago houses, it made good use of space, seeming to offer more on the inside than could have been expected from its outside appearance.

We didn't really spend much time on the inside, however. We sat out on the porch. A group of Canaryville bangers sat on the porch across the street, several houses up, while some more "respectable" neighbors, some who were apparently cokeheads, tidied up their lawn across the street.

J. was married to M. J. had four children; two sons and two daughters. The younger daughter wants to become a writer. The whole family gathered on the porch, and we talked for a long time. Much of what they said was described in the last post. Here's some more:

1. People tend to be able to leave Canaryville, but not leave permanently. J., herself, had moved to Texas for awhile, but moved back for family reasons, and missing the connections and relationships available to her in Canaryville. She gave many examples, though, of people who'd lived their all their lives, including the upstairs tenant.

2. Racism is a major problem in Canaryville, and 15 years ago was the site of one of the most notorious racially motivated crimes in Chicago's history. Canaryville is, as I've noted, the most Irish neighborhood in Chicago, and is unique in being one of the few Irish enclaves (meaning, still a destination for immigration) in the U.S. Of other groups, Mexican Americans have been there the longest, and are probably the most integrated into the "community" (in the sense that in Canaryville, they will tend to be regarded as insiders rather than outsiders). A few Chinese Americans have trickled in from the north, and some African Americans have moved in from nearby Englewood and Fuller Park. While these groups are still considered "outsiders" by most, and might be subject to disciminatory acts in Canaryville, the have become enough of a presence to open up the neighborhood somewhat.

3. The largest factor in the above is the reevaluation of inner-city bussing. Whereas Tilden High School, Canaryville's huge public high school, had previously only drawn from white neighborhoods (particularly in that southside Irish/Italian/Polish corridor), it now draws kids from Englewood and Fuller park. Combined with the increase in the hispanic population in the stockyards area as a whole, Canaryville now hosts a racially diverse population each day. Whereas such bussing doesn't always make a difference in local demography (I might site Doyle-Rider or Garfield in Flint), in Canaryville the difference is apparently huge. I do not know why this is; I wonder if perhaps Tilden is more closely tied to other neighborhood institutions than is typical.

4. Ironically, the Canaryville is also home to two or three parishes that maintain parochial schools (including high school). The old Irish population, however, is poor enough that they couldn't send their kids to school there. Thus, the Catholic schools are filled with Bridgeport kids, and the Canaryville kids of all races gravitate toward Tilden.

5. In about so many words, Canaryville is a ghetto. That is, you see things you expect to see in your "generic" American ghetto; lot's of kids and elderly, people sitting on stoops, heavy bass thudding from low-riders, the whole bit. The Irish ambience contrasts weirdly with all this. An hour walk through Canaryville is literally an experience you won't have anywhere else.

6. Canaryville bucks ghetto trends in other ways. For the amount of drug dealing that goes on, there is a low level of violence, or more appropriately, Canaryville maintains "low-level" violence. By this I mean that firearm homicides still seem to be uncommon occurrences. Stabbings, clubbings, and fist fights seem to be the norm.

7. In my hosts' opinion, Canaryville will get worse before it gets better, but has a bright future in the long run. They say the gangs are gaining strength. Parents are inattentive and the school does not offer afterschool activities or programs... the parishes in this overwhelmingly Catholic neighborhood draw mainly from outside neighborhoods... with most of the businesses on Halsted and 43rd boarded up and the tiny neighborhood surrounded by sprawling industries, there is simply a dearth of things to do. They maintain, however, that the successful integration of different races has already improved Canaryville, and that tried and true neighborhood institutions will win in the end.

8. The Stockyards Industrial District continues to be a major employer. Over 100 industrial companies employ over 10,000 workers, typically drawn from Back of the Yards, Canaryville, Bridgeport, and McKinley Park. Canaryville, incidentally, has a population of only several thousand.

9. The Cubs. This is almost as weird as the Celtic knots juxtaposed against bass thudding out of cars blasting Mexican rap. One notices over time that the South Side of Chicago is as fervent about baseball as anywhere. It's the sort of place where one is as likely to be beaten for wearing the wrong cap as anything else. Ironically, that trouble-bringing hat would probably be for the "White Sox." This situation has an old history.
The South Side Irish who worked in the meat-packing plants over a hundred years ago gradually settled into three defined communities: the Hamburg Irish, the Dashed Irish, and the Canaryville Irish. The first two had a famous rivalry with the third, who sought to distance themselves from their more affluent northern neighbors in every way possible. As Bridgeport is as much a hotbed of American league fanaticism as it is of political corruption, Canaryville support of the Cubs was a powerful strategy. It's a real twist of the knife too; Canaryville sits practically in the shadow of Comisky.
That said, there are an increasing number of Sox holdouts these days, as Canaryville is repopulated from other neighborhoods.

In the end, we exchanged phone numbers and agreed to go to a Sox game sometime.
J. and M., at least, support the White Sox. It told them I do too, so long as they're not playing the Tigers.

* * * * *

Only one thing remained.

I had to visit the Fairview; the notoriously grubby supermarket in Hart Plaza, literally on the lip of stockyard ruins. I bought a slip of completely inedible beef jerky that I had to throw away after a single bite.

And then I answered the question of whether one can drink three cans of Steel Reserve in Canaryville without getting caught and fined.


Sunday, August 01, 2004

Canaryville Blues, Part I: Picturing Canaryville


EDIT: This post contains my personal impressions of Canaryville as collected through July 2004 by visiting the neighborhood, reading, and interviewing residents. I undertstand that there are some factual errors here, but as this is not a project I am actively working on, I have not made changes. Thank you for any constructive criticism offered here.

- Connor Coyne, 4/4/2007

This past weekend, when I was still in Flint, I spoke with Dan Gerics from Flint City Theatre about submitting a script for their season next year. It's good for me; I haven't written many scripts lately, and resumewise, one script peformed is better than twelve on the page.
For this project, I returned to Canaryville Blues, which I drafted (in the broadest sense of the word) in late 99, and hope to absorb into Part 6 of Euphemism, a major project.

Canaryville strikes me as incredibly beautiful, contradictory, and fascinating... one of the most forgotten of Chicago neighborhoods, and that in spite of a complex and colorful history.
Canaryville is one of the stockyard neighborhoods on the South Side, closely tied to Bridgeport to the north, Fuller Park to the east, and Back of the Yards to the west. The borders on north and south are Pershing (39th) and the G.T.W. railroad, on east and west are the Penn-Central railroads and Halsted street. Those of you familiar with Chicago, and the South Side in particular, understand the fact that railroad tracks and industrial areas can more effectively isolate a neighborhood than expressways and rivers. Such barriers block out the view, and do not convey the same sense of commerce.

I believe that Canaryville was part of Forest Township during the late 1800s and was incorportated into the city of Chicago sometime following the establishment of the Union Stockyards. Canaryville was doomed by its situation above all else; while the stockyards were the largest employer on the South Side (and debateably Chicago), they created a reek that hung over the area like a pall and sometimes drifted as far as Hyde Park. Canaryville was the stockyards' front door, and so the stench overwhelmed and is even detectable today, thirty years after the stockyards closed.

The population very quickly became almost exclusively Irish, and rivalries between the Canaryville Irish and nearby Bridgeport Irish have spanned a century, and became so intense that Canaryville tends to back the Cubs (an act of high treason in the vicinity of Pershing). Because of its insolation, Canaryville remained largely Irish through to the present day, with a higher number of Irish households for population (and more active immigration from Ireland) than the more well -known neighborhoods of Bridgeport and Beverly.

In spite of this, Canarville is still a poor, inner city neighborhood with low-quality housing and a slate of industrial problems. Ethnic isolation has also led to ethnic strife. The African American influx to nearby Englewood and Fuller Park, and the post-World War II decline of those neighborhoods has fostered in Canaryville a sort of siege mentality. While this has begun to crack, largely with the bussing of out-of-neighborhood kids to Tilden, a large public high school, Canaryville has connections to some of Chicago's most notorious racism, including an incident in which a black boy was left in the neighborhood by the police, only to be promptly beaten to death, and the inciting event of the 1919 race riots.

Today, the neighborhood retains a strong Irish flavor, but many newer arrivals are Mexican and African American. I mentioned that Canaryville is beautiful to me. In many of Chicago poorer neighborhoods, it is clear where residents have taken pains to fix up their property. Canaryville is filled with this sort of effort, being dominated by single-family homes, but the raw materials are more limited. That is, the neighborhood is flat and overshadowed by industrial debris on all sides. The western half is covered with a perpetual stench that makes one's chest hurt until she is used to it. Housing stock is almost all frame, and even the most expensive older homes have been covered with shake and vinyl siding, hiding any remants of original stonework. Canaryville is also the sort of neighborhood where residents are born, live for generations and die. While the stockyards themselves have closed, many residents still work at the Stockyards Industrial District installed afterwards.

All of this combines to form an intriguing, insulated patchwork of open industrial space and mixed residential clusters.


A National Historic Landmark in Chicago, the Union Stockyard gate was built around 1875, early in the century long career of the Union Stockyards. The Stockyards are most notoriously known through Sinclair's The Jungle, but the immensity of the industry, which employed over 20,000 workers and, at its height, slaughtered hundreds of thousants of hogs and cattle a day isn't apparent until one walks along the mile-long complex. The gate itself was designed by the architect Burnham, whose name is all over Chicago parks and buildings, for the Armour company. The steer's head carved in center is supposedly modeled on "Sherman," a prize winning cow belonging to a stockyard founder.

Again, an earthquake caused my hand to shake, taking this picture.


You know I've no connection with PETA; I like my coneys too much. Still, the first time I looked through the stockyards arch, back toward the desolation of Canaryville, I was reminded of another famous gate:

I still don't know anything about this building. I'm trying to find out. All I know is, Sam, it could be ours...
EDIT: I found out. This was the Union Stockyards Bank.

The newer gate to the Stockyards Industrial Park. When the last of the three major packing industries closed, the city reclaimed the stockyards as an industrial park. Now the area is filled with smaller industrial projects.


While Halsted is the only major thoroughfare passing through Canaryville, it does not create a favorable impression. The western side of the street is dominated by industry, and the signature Packingtown stench is at its most powerful here.

Our first view of the "Canaryville Bungalow."

The International Amphitheatre.

EDIT: Evidently this used to be a venue of some magnitude, which surprises me given its lowness. It occurs to me that perhave the interior is depressed, because it was apparently used for sporting events, concerts, and various conventions.

Hart Plaza.

Check out the stacks of boxcars in the background.

Remnants of the stockyards.


The poor side of Canaryville.

You find these in Hyde Park, minus the cheap siding.

Chicago Public Schools, Tilden High School.


The more affluent part of Canaryville.

Looking south toward 47th. In the background are semi trailors stacked six high and side to side. It's an imposing sight.

One of the South Side's mysterious "metal animals." There is, if I remember correctly, a horse in Hyde Park, and a goat in Bridgeport.

The St. Gabriel parish school. There are numerous parochial schools in Canaryville.

St. Gabriel's Church is probably, along with St. Gertude and St. Thomas the Apostle, the most beautiful church with Chicago. Ironically, its context seems a little unusual; the church was built by stockyard magnates in a traditional French Romanesque style, even though the Parish itself was overwhelmingly Irish. The simplicity of the French style was considered appropriate for a "house of the people."
I have to admit, this is a gorgeous building, in what seems to be a very active parish.

Count the flags.

A United Methodist Church.

Huge and Ugly Yuppie Houses have found their way even here...

Canaryville alley.

Count the flags.

Dean's Hot Dogs. The best Chicago style Viennas are slung out of this nondescript house. They damn-near killed me when I was apartment hunting last October.

The Chicago Public Library.

I don't know if the term Veteran's Enclave exists, but Canaryville seems to invent it. There were as many Marine Corps, Navy, and MIA/POW flags as Irish, American, Cubs, and Sox flags. The epicenter is this memorial dedicated at the CPL on 43rd.


The Northern border of Canaryville is as heavily industrial as Halsted Street.

Northwest Canaryville, facing the stockyards.

Taylor-Lauridsen Park.

TNT Beef and Pizza. They also make wonderful Chicago style dogs, though not as murderously wonderful as Dean's. I've spent many evenings here reading.

Goodbye Canaryville.

* * * * *

COMMENT, 3/31/2006.
I've finally gotten tired of getting spam comments and flames from people, so I decided to take the comments down. People negatively responding to this post almost universally show how carelessly they have read it by not:

1. Responding to or addressing the positive things I say about Canaryville.
2. Responding to or addressing the fact that the most controversial statements were made by Canaryville residents I interviewed.
3. Acknowledging the fact that this is a "context" post for insight not a finished project, that the project itself was not developed after 2004, and that everything is laid out as a work-in-progress.

If you all thought you could disprove some stereotype by leaving a bunch of nasty comments, you're mistaken. I don't have to change anything, and I'm disinclined to both respond to suggestions given in the form of insults or to provide a forum for your ranting.

I have taken the time to respond to some of the more reasonable comments people have left. All in all, this is a stupid thing to be upset by because nobody reads this post anymore except Canaryville residents digging for photos of Canaryville. If you're genuinely concerned about the reputation of your neighborhood, I'd like to make two suggestions.

First, write a nasty letter to Chicago: Not for Tourists. They say a lot of awful things about your neck of the woods without mentioning any of the history or positives that I've presented. I can promise you more people read their guides than my two-year old blog archives.
Second, if a writer/musician/artist/whatever says something you disagree with, instead of posting your angry thoughts in a public forum, send a thoughtful, critical email presenting your concerns. It is certainly more likely to get a fair reading and make a difference. (Myself, if you have to contact me, there is a contact form on my website here).

In closing, I would like to mention that while the posted comments were generally negative, I received a number of emails (overally, more coherent and thoughtfully written) during August and September 2004, when I was working on this play. About half of them were positive, and a lot of people appreciated that I was approaching Canaryville as a dynamic, changing community. If you reread these three posts, I think it's pretty clear that, regardless of whether or not you agree, I'm not trying to "slam" your neighborhood.

A lot of what I found so compelling about Canaryville (which I visited over a dozen times between 1999 and 2004) was its struggle for self-definition throughout a complicated, contradictory, and epic history. Canaryville, like my hometown, Flint, has both bright spots and a lot of issues, and these are part of what makes such communities unique. Do you really want to wash over that and pretend it's not there?

~ Connor