How does that keep happening?
John Hughes in book form.

Let's hear it for University of Chicago Press.

Martin Preib's essay collection/memoir The Wagon and Other Stories from the City is not going to be for everyone.*

Wagon But if you like it, you're going to really like it. It's a slim little volume, but it packs a lot in its 165 pages (which is always my favorite kind of book). It's a collection of tales from Preib's life in Chicago--both from his time spent working service jobs such as being a hotel doorman and bartending, and from his career as a Chicago police officer (a job at which one of his first duties was picking up dead bodies from around the ciy in "the Wagon"). He also slips in tales of his free-form education (sounds like he studied Latin and Greek at some point, for whatever reason) and his adventures hitchhiking around the country.

I wasn't wowed by the first essay, but after that, I couldn't seem to leave the book alone. Even when I wasn't aware that I was loving it, I resisted taking it back to the library on time so I could finish it, and I'm glad I did. Sometimes the writing is a bit, well, for lack of a better term, "writer's workshop" for me, but that's okay. I'd rather someone went for lyrical, for something a bit deeper, and failed, than if they hadn't tried at all. And, after all, the brutal nature of his cop work stories kept things real. When he and his partner are called to a cab fare dispute, in which three drunken yuppies are alleging they're being overcharged by their cabdriver (Preib assesses the fare and distance on the scene and points out that the fare seems about right), I loved his thought process:

"I calmly ask the drunken woman what happened, as if I am interested in her side, but my mind is already made up. She has to pay. I nod my head calmly as she rants, raising my eyes a few times and saying quietly, 'Take it easy. I'm listening,' hoping that she will run out of air, calm down. Instead she states over and over that she is a teacher and very educated. Her voice is loud, abrasive, condescending. The educated part is thrown at me as much as the cabdriver. It dawns on me that this cabdriver can probably speak at least two or three languages. I want to look at her and tell her that a monkey could pass education classes." (p. 79.)

Okay, I just found that really, really awesome. Because 1. I have to laugh that people always have plenty of money for their own food and booze, but none when it comes to tips or cab fare; and 2. I was just ranting to Mr. CR the other day how sad I think it is how so few of us in this country speak a second language (and we continue to fight learning another language, tooth and nail). I think this came up after I watched the German winner of the weekend's PGA championship answer the announcer's questions in fluent English. How many of our golfers (arguably probably some of the better educated athletes out there) could go to Germany and answer in fluent German? Or anywhere? How embarrassing.

It's a fascinating little book, containing ideas that are anything but little. And this author had to overcome my reading prejudices--Chicago is my least favorite city on the planet (of the few I've visited). And he STILL managed to make the city seem harsh and beautiful and interesting all at once. Kudos to the University of Chicago Press for publishing this one--and I hope we see more from Martin Preib.

*My blogging program changed a bit, offering this slightly larger font. How does everyone feel about it? I kind of like it.