Stuart Ross

Chicago Shakespeare Theater at Navy Pier presents Julius Caesar in the Jentes Family Auditorium. I want tickets because of a feeling in my life that everything is dead. Also reminded of the ongoing performance on Twitter. So Twitter is an engine of economic growth. Right before buying the tickets I’m reading an article found by me on twitter, tips for writers. Watch out for the verb to be. Especially in its passive forms. Like to be ever did anything to you, like to be has some bad reputation, a cowardly verb dying a thousand deaths. This is what writing instruction has to say about the very heart of our irregular existence: avoid me. In the 80/20 principle of prose, 80% of it is a silent plea to end the other 20%.


I want to buy the tickets. I don’t want to buy the tickets. I call Betsy, my wife. Should I buy the tickets? She is all for it. Last week she said no to Richard II, tonight she will say yes to JC. I go to the web site. I get row D seats 1 and 2. I go to open an account to purchase them. It turns out I already have an existing account with this email address. That’s right, a very dark Othello in 2007. It was during that performance I realized everyone responds to Iago’s jokes with a Ha!, only Desdemona has the guts to respond: oh most lame and impotent conclusion. To open my pre-existing account, I must have a password reminder sent to my email, click on the link within that email which will then deliver me to a new page. All of this causes me to lose my place in the virtual line, and my Row D tickets. I am furious and I have no idea why. Oh most lame and impotent conclusion. I think to myself, at intermission, go to Row D, find the people in seats 1 and 2 and tell them: we were on the Internet at the same time. Now, finally, logged into the account I didn’t know I had, I get row J, seats 1 and 2. $58 each. $6.95 processing fee. This is why we whistle while we work.


Julius Caesar is a play about minimalism. In sentences, in actions, in staging, in morals. If Shakespeare were submitting to zines today JC would be one of his flash fictions. I am in a war against minimalism. Like every war there is nothing I can do to stop it. I am trying to think big. I am trying to disabuse myself of this notion of honor in words. To believe in the verbs, like a Christian will believe in people, those who are the weakest. So I am buying these tickets to visit Julius Caesar, my enemigo. Also visions of Brando’s hairless chest. And wanting to hear the way the players say a few of my favorite lines. Disrobe the images, if you do find them decked with ceremonies. This is the first rule of minimalism. If we hear 10 favorite lines, that’s $12.99 per line, not including parking. 


The app is warning Betsy there will be traffic on Lake Shore Drive, but she’ll meet me as soon as she can in front of the West Jackson Street entrance to my office building. We never talk about the time last summer I was standing outside the Van Buren Street entrance, and she was waiting for me on Jackson. Since I’m getting a ride home in my own car I empty out my file cabinets, bring everything in my desk home with me, everything I’ve been ignoring for months that I will now ignore at home for months, before throwing it all away in a fit of Sunday fury.


The Theater at Chicago’s Navy Pier. Sponsors. Anniversaries. Designated parking. On the North Side the city is hard to figure out this far east. That’s not the South Loop, babe, Betsy says, that’s the loop itself. We haven’t been here since the summer and that was on bikes. Parking is $10 after 5PM with or without validation. So there is no validation, really, yet validation is advertised at Will Call. We have just enough time to eat! We walk for what feels like forever. Funhouses, mazes, popcorn and chocolate, fudge, a shadow economy in plain sight, thousands of deluxe magnets, personalized while you wait t-shirts and hats, the famous motorcycles, NYSE: HOG, up 12% this year. A photo booth 150 years more advanced than the photo booth at The Rainbo Club. Finally, we see a Margaritaville. As if we’d known. Margaritaville, because of an ex-girlfriend, will always remind me of the mafia in New Jersey. Please wait to be seated. Host tells us a huge party (associated with Shakespeare, perhaps we will see Ben Johnson nursing a Who’s to Blame? Mojito) has just sat down and we will not be served in time to make the show. Sorry. Not your fault, I tell the host. I read on Twitter that Adorno hated hosts, but Adorno was a trust fund brat so he likely abused everyone in the service economy and then went back to his philosophy palace to cry over Op. 111’s Arietta, suck Berg’s dick and deny the future of tonality. Because we can’t get in to Margaritaville, really, it’s not possible, I am now ready to have the worst time of my life. Betsy brushes it off and merrily walks to the food court. Catching up I remember her tenacity is one of the reasons I married her.


Even though the food court is empty we keep bumping into people. Very bored-looking (the word looking may be a sign of weak writing) very sad-looking teenagers are sitting around the 100 or so tables, living in the suburbs of their affection. The acne is incredible. They’re old enough to have cell phones but none of them have phones. It occurs to me they may be underprivileged, not yet made respectable, clean, and prosperous by one of Bruce Rauner’s charter schools. Very Large Americans walk by, each carrying a personal Connie’s Pizza, one carrying 15 Large Orange Sodas in a cardboard-folded tote. A Thursday night. The beginning of the end of winter. We don’t know what these people are doing here. They aren’t going to Shakespeare. They can’t live around here because around here is Lake Michigan. I suspect their minds are somewhere else. It occurs to me they may be poor but I don’t know what that means, like I don’t know what it means to be rich. NYSE: MCD, up nearly 12% year to date, now serving fish bites. The pun is not lost on me. I ask the clerk at America’s Dog what the Veggie Dog is made of. Soy, he says. No what brand, I ask. He doesn’t know. He does know the beef is 100% pure Vienna Beef. Adorno Beef. My guess is the soy is somehow brought to me by NYSE: MON, up nearly 9% year to date. We get Traditional Chicago Dogs with the Soy Dog substitute. I should eat pig to support Chicago. Pig flesh is one of the only reasons Chicago is not Cincinnati. Nothing is less vegetarian than the hot dog. We only get one value meal. A small curly fry will be enough for the both of us. $14.56. Get three ketchups. Get two mayonnaises. Only I use mayonnaise. Betsy makes face.


We’re gonna be late. Head to Will Call. The pun is not lost on me. We get our tickets. What is Julius Caesar about. Well, it’s about JC, the pun is not lost on me, who is the king but not the king, like Obama. Then it’s about these middle managers, these kind of losers from an office, the commentariat, who want to kill him. They pace and talk fast like on The West Wing only the centuries have ruined everything but the pith. They kill JC. Usually like 14 times. Then there’s Anthony, Brando in the movie, who loves JC to death. He also sort of works in an office, but he’s the most eloquent kiss-ass in the history of offices. There are amazing speeches. One speech probably has 9 clichés that English Professors like to remind you were already clichés in Shakespeare’s time, and 11 great titles of books and movies written around the time of Monica Lewinsky. There are two nagging wives because this is Shakespeare and they kneel down and complain to their husbands and have portents and visions and dreams and feelings. Greenblatt speculated that Portia’s complaining about being held in the suburbs of good pleasure is an autobiographical hint from Shakespeare on leaving Anne in Naperville when he headed off to the city to punch out these plays. There’s a war, or a situation, and people continue to talk in rooms, like situation rooms. If there were unmanned drones at that time they are not mentioned in the play, nor the source material, Plutarch’s Lives in which, I always remember now following Markson, there are no stories about children. Children didn’t exist before the Family Leave Act. All this is fine. But the main question on directing JC is: put people in togas, or don’t put people in togas? Tonight, as we take our seats in Row J, we realize there will be no togas. The players are wearing suits, good suits at that, nothing like the body paint tuxedos on the men at the Academy Awards, but they fit, double-vented. The play is set in a modern day Washington D.C. So togas were not an option. I am reminded of the Crime and Punishment TV movie from the 90s with a bearded Patrick Dempsey as Raskolnikov, and the director’s choice to make Dempsey try a fake Russian accent in English. So that’s a toga. This was before everything that Patrick Dempsey said on television was accompanied by a string quartet playing pizzicato to evoke medical whimsy.


Before the play’s first line (pre-play? we don’t know the technical term) there’s action on the stage. The actors are having some kind of carnival. They are making a party in the street for JC’s return. Balloons, individually-wrapped roses, peanuts, a hand with a #1 finger, hot dogs, ketchup, mustard, rockabilly music, line dancing, varsity scarves (the images robed,) flags on toothpicks. During the first act I write in the dark: 

  • A cavern dark enough
  • Heart of controversy
  • Know him from his gait (that’s fucking cheating)
  • Base spaniel fawning (!)
  • Your wisdom is consumed by confidence
  • Awkward favor
  • Will I have violent dreams again tonight?


Intermission. We complain about the production and we praise the production. See a lot of the people who got served at Margaritaville looking bloated. Head over to the vendor area. Read the sponsoring plaque. Pick up and put down a magnet for $3, a magnet for $6, a mug for $8, a t-shirt for $15. Navy Pier has got me feeling fake Amerio-Marxist. Being permitted to touch merchandise is proof of its mechanical reproduction. This is why in my grandfather’s day the Italian shirts at Bloomingdale’s were kept in locked cases. See two copies of Frank Kermode’s small book, touch both of them. Remember reading this book and thinking it was the greatest book ever and now I don’t remember anything from it, flip through the pages, searching for something I can remember, all I find are more things I will continue to forget and forget. April is coming. I need a new umbrella. There is an umbrella on sale for $20. It is heavy. A good heavy umbrella is essential in April. It doesn’t need to be an crossover utility vehicle umbrella like an amateur golfer’s, it just needs to be heavy. Remember teaching English comp in grad school in South Bend and I think of Lizzy Seeberg, the St. Mary’s freshman who killed herself after an alleged rape by a Notre Dame football player. She was born in Northbrook, Illinois, 20 miles from tonight’s play, home office of NYSE: ALL, up 18% year to date. Mayhem. If I had to add up all the women I know who’ve been raped to all the women I don’t know who’ve been raped I wouldn’t have time to think of anything else. Like Thom Yorke, I have seen too much. At least I haven’t felt it. To feel, that is another verb that suggests poor writing. I start to cry right there in front of the umbrellas. How easily Lizzy could’ve been one of my students and I would’ve had no idea because I condescended to my students. Because college is just a flow chart of condescension, like any other organization, only with happy hours that people actually go to. Because the students are clients and no one can stand their clients. One day that cold April it was raining and I walked in carrying (where was my cloak?) an umbrella and one student said to me: why are you carrying an umbrella? I said because it was raining. Another student said, why don’t you just have a hood or a rain coat? I said, well, it is urban to have an umbrella. Where I’m from, people carry umbrellas. Nobody understood. Neither did I. They were perfectly reasonable questions, and it was a more interesting literary puzzle than anything
in Daisy Miller or Melanie Rae Thon. I remember pleading with them, but if there were no umbrellas, there would be no umbrella buckets. There would be one less Renoir in the National Gallery. April is coming. I need a new umbrella. I want an umbrella that says Shakespeare Chicago Theater on it. It will remind me of being a boy when there was real pain and real hope, before sexuality, before masturbation, before rape, when a souvenir from a cultural event was my greatest happiness. I pay the man $20 for this. Now I will be a poet in the rain. On Lizzy Seeberg, umbrella, slicker or hood, it will never rain again.


Indistinct shouting, bell dinging. The second act is starting. Betsy and I have been debating whether we should stay for the second act. It’s late and we’re tired and we need to go to work tomorrow and a lot of the second act is gonna be a lot of Romans talking. We decide to stay just for Anthony’s speech to the people, the great rhetorical turn, like Obama’s speech on race at the Constitution Center in Philadelphia. It is worth it. Anthony is an honorable man. The scene is the greatest in the play including this time. The Director takes an #OWS approach to the riots, the monstrous karma-challenged cops; one of the murderers of Cinna, the Poet, wears a Guy Fawkes mask. Kill him for his bad tweets. When Anthony presents JC’s bloodied robe (it’s not his 120s super fine two-button suit jacket, JC was wearing a toga-ish robe when he was murdered) I imagine Obama’s death. I think something like: everyone hates everyone. Yet blood is still blood. Like the U.S., blood is extraterritorial, the same color everywhere. Murder is never the answer. Only for some people.  Murder, as Houellebecq observed, is mediocre. And I think of a comment below an interview I just read with Joshua Cohen. He says 400 amazing things about literature and guts and life and the one comment on the article is: Another Smart Prick. I think, what if that comment could be a robe, and it could be bloody, and have holes, and be presented to the people? What if there were an American people, would there be no comments? Why did I have a dream the night before that I was killing a Polish woman? The scene is ending. I send Betsy out ahead of me. Decorum. I leave 30 seconds later. I am almost run over by three angry citizens.


While Betsy is using the rest room and they are opening the coat check room just for me (I have ticket #248) I see a bored Calpurnia, JC’s third and final wife. She’s texting. There is not a trace of grief on her face. Only her fingers swishing across her phone like she’s pulling a marionette’s strings.


I will drive us back home. The lake will be frozen, there will be floes. The ice age is to the east, the skyscrapers are to the west. Bellow’s dangling man liked to walk to this same lake on winter evenings, dreaming of boredom. I think of a photo of my sister, Lizzy Seeberg’s age, facing The Drake Hotel, on a never ending summer night the summer before. On the drive north the van der Roe’s will be glistening snug in the 900 block, Schiller and Goethe will be dripping melted snow. I will take the 25mph turn at 35, I will take the 35 turn at 45, I will talk out loud about those doing 70 between North and Fullerton, I will keep it at 51 and remember the memory of my violations and tickets, remember the memory of smoking in cars, remember the memory of Camrys of winters past. There is a vast literature of rides up Lake Shore Drive. This literature is housed in my head. Before she is in charge of her passenger seat nap, Betsy is in charge of the music. I must hear Thom Yorke’s Idioteque on the ride home. This is not up for debate. I don’t usually think about listening to Radiohead but I read that David Berman said Radiohead is the most famous band ever that has so little to say about anything. David Berman is on my list of 140 idols, but that is fucking ridiculous. Now I must listen to Radiohead in protest. Stealing unsafe glances at the melting river, Idioteque blasting on our shitty stereo, I confirm there is nothing more important to say about our time than what Thom is bellowing. Ice age coming, ice age coming. Let me hear both sides.





I wrote this piece aboard the Blue Water.