Tuesday, August 18, 2020

August 14, 2020 — 134th Day in Quarantine

August 14, 2020 — 134th Day in Quarantine 

It’s been raining for about 80 days.  I look out my window and see the gray wetness on the street, on the leaves on the trees, on my car sitting parked in the driveway.  The sky is gray too.  The only blue I see is in the shirt I wear most days and the cup I put my coffee in.  It’s summer and soon it will be fall, but all I can do is sit here waiting for the rain to stop falling.  I can’t mow, can’t walk in my garden, can’t sit on the back porch and drink wine.  The sun has left and gone to some other part of the solar system.  

My 11-year-old granddaughter Lulu who lives with us is tired of the rain too.  She’s built herself a fortress in the rec room downstairs out of some old card tables and blankets.  Days, she sits in her fortress and plays with her stuffed animals or reads to them from a Harry Potter book.  Nights, she tries to sleep down there.  She’s put a sleeping bag on the floor of the rec room and lies down. Lying there, she can hear the rain falling outside.  A lot of nights, it keeps her awake. She pulls her stuffed animals closer and prays for it to stop.  It doesn’t. 

My daughter Lillian, her mom, pretends she doesn’t hear the rain.  Most days and evenings, she’s on her computer, zooming with the people she works with.  They talk about the work they have to do now because the rain is falling and falling. Like my daughter, they pretend they don’t hear the rain either, but I know they do.  I can see it in the way they lean into their laptops for their zooms.  Sometimes, my daughter or one of her co-workers will laugh about something, but I know they’re just laughing to cover up the sound of the rain falling against the windows.

My wife Linda hears the rain too.  She knows it’s been falling for as long as it’s been falling, but she’s not like me.  She thinks it will stop falling someday.  Maybe not soon, but someday.  Someday it will stop.  She’s planning for that day.  She sits in her easy chair with her laptop looking for vacations to the beaches in Virginia and North Carolina, cruises to the Bahamas, and weekends in New York City. She’s waiting for the day the rain stops, and she can drive up to Connecticut to bring her parents back here to visit.  She knows the rain has been falling there too.


My latest column for the Dziennik Zwiazkowy.



Monday, August 3, 2020

Great News!

The New York Times reviewed my new mystery Little Altar Boy, the 2nd Hank and Marvin mystery, and they liked it!
Here’s what reviewer Marilyn Stasio says,
In his novels, John Guzlowski — the son of Polish slave laborers in Nazi Germany — reimagines the 1950s Chicago neighborhood he was raised in, a place shaped by immigrants and strivers. LITTLE ALTAR BOY (Kasva Press, 323 pp., paper, $14.95) once again features Hank Purcell and Marvin Bondarowicz, the two veteran cops whom we met in “Suitcase Charlie” and are happy to see again.
This time out Guzlowski is taking on pedophilia among the clergy, and it’s not pretty. Sister Mary Philomena, a nun at St. Fidelis Parish, shows up at Purcell’s home one snowy winter night. “I need your help,” she tells him. “There’s something terrible happening. I saw it today … and it stopped me like a death.” What she witnessed was a priest molesting an altar boy, a terrified sixth grader.
A few days later, the nun is found stabbed to death in the cellar of the convent. In the classic procedural that follows, the cops choke down their own cynicism (“People don’t take that kind of accusation against priests seriously. Never have, never will”) to investigate a crime that officially doesn’t exist.


The book is available at Amazon as a Kindle or a paperback. Just click here.

Thursday, July 30, 2020

The Neighborhood Division: Stories by Jeff Vande Zande

The Neighborhood Division: Stories by Jeff Vande Zande is the best book of fiction I’ve read in a long long time.  


I’ve been a serious reader of novels and short story collection for pretty much my entire adult life (55 years at least) but I haven’t read a book as good as this one in probably about 5 years, not since Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch.


Vande Zande’s got what Donna Tartt’s got, an incredible sense of language, an ability to understand people, and a gift for creative narrative.  In each of the stories in this volume, Vande Zande writes of people facing real problems that separate them from the people in their communities.  In an early story called "The Long Run," for instance, he writes of a person lost while running in a new neighborhood.  His simple story of being lost quickly evolves into a metaphor for his relationship to his wife and his father and the person the main character understands or doesn’t understand himself to be.  Every other story in this collection is just as strong, just as satisfying.


I found this collection especially important in this time of pandemic because so many of the stories deal with isolation, real isolation and psychological isolation, and people trying to understand how they can make sense of the lives they are no longer connected to.  Reading the book was like getting live reports from the pandemic world around me.


Jeff Vande Zande is one great writer, and I’m going to read another of his books tomorrow.


Here's a piece of the story "The Long Run" that I mentioned earlier:


He kept running.


A block ahead, an old man turned out of a driveway toward him, moving meticulously behind a walking stick. Andy stopped a few feet in front of him.

“Do you know where this road goes?” he asked, pointing. The old man turned and looked down the street. “Well--”

“I’m just wondering if there’s a back way into the Alpine neighborhood.”


The man turned back toward Andy. He put both hands on his stick and leaned. “Which Alpine?”



He looked thoughtful. “I’m not sure where that one--”


The sweat on Andy’s upper lip began to cool. “It’s where the old boy scout camp used to




The old man smiled. “Okay. I know where you mean, now. I was a part of that camp when I was a kid.” His forehead furrowed. “There’s a back way, but you gotta know your way around. Better off just sticking to--”



Andy told him that he wanted to make a circle so he didn’t have to backtrack. “You said there’s a way?”

“There’s a way.” He turned again and pointed into the distance. “Just stay on Third. It’s going to twist you through some neighborhoods, but you’ll come out on Lee. Take a right on Lee and go past East Ridge. When you come to West Ridge, turn in there and follow it around to Maltby. Take Maltby to Hamburg and that should get you there, but--”

“Lee to West Ridge, West Ridge to Maltby and Maltby to Hamburg,” Andy recited.


The old man nodded, dabbing his fingertips at the snow in his eyebrows. “What do you think of our April weather?”

Andy launched back into his run. “It’s not too bad,” he called back over his shoulder.


He guessed that the houses along Third represented the older part of the town – what it used to be before all of the Alpine Terraces, Vistas, Ridges, and Views began to spring up. The homes around him were small, neat, and not separated by acres of lawn. A few men were on a roof pitching shingles into a dumpster in the driveway. A plastic Santa Claus was still tied to the chimney.

Andy’s sweat held a skin of warmth around him. The cold and snow in the air did nothing. Starting to climb a hill at the end of Third, he checked his watch. Twenty minutes. His thighs burned against the hill’s incline. He clapped his hands a few times, encouraging himself. “Come on,” he whispered, smiling.

Just past the crest of the hill the road came to a T intersection. Must be Lee, he thought, but the sign had too many letters. The words came into focus. Meadow Valley Lane.



Andy stopped and caught his breath. Meadow Valley Lane curved to the right on his left and curved to the left on his right. It was flanked in both directions by newer builds that had probably gone up within the last five years.

Where was Lee? Andy shivered. He’d stood still too long. Turning to the right, he started running again.



Here's a link to the Amazon site about The Neighborhood Division.  Just click here

Monday, July 27, 2020

Life in the Pandemic

My pandemic poem Life in the Pandemic appears in New Verse News, a great online journal of poems about the news.

Life in the Pandemic

Things are slowing down.

It takes me 2 days to drink a cup of coffee,
A week to read a book,
A month to water the bushes we re-planted in June.

I move from one room to another
looking for shoes I haven’t worn in 2 months.
If I come across my car keys
I won’t recognize them.

I’ve stopped listening to the news
Stopped looking out the window
Stopped wondering what tomorrow
Will be like.

I started this poem in March
Maybe I’ll finish it
By Christmas.


Tuesday, July 14, 2020

Review of Little Altar Boy from Crime Fiction Lovers

John Guzlowski’s riveting new police procedural takes you back to the time before sustained pressure on the Catholic Church brought to light its widespread and systemic problem of child sexual abuse. The victims’ quest for justice has taken years to play out and is ongoing, paralleled by revelations about how powerful men (mostly) continue to take sexual and psychological advantage of those on the wrong side of the power differential.
It’s the late 1960s, in the post-Christmas dark night of winter, and Chicago police detective Hank Purcell is at home, waiting for his 19-year-old daughter Margaret to appear. She has new friends, new habits and new attitudes, none of which make him happy. He thinks she’s doing drugs – smoking marijuana and maybe more. His vigil is interrupted by a rare visit from Sister Mary Philomena, a nun who’d helped him with a case some 10 years before. Short, plump, formidable. She’s a grade six teacher at the local Catholic School, Saint Fidelis – an ironic name there – and she’s troubled.
She tells him she’s seen the parish’s popular young priest, Father Bachleda, with an altar boy, appearing to fiddle with his pants. Whatever, it isn’t right. She doesn’t want Hank to make an arrest, just give a warning. When he finds out about the nun’s visit, Hank’s partner, Marvin Bondarowicz, would prefer to string Father Bachleda up, no questions asked, but Hank had promised the nun a warning only, which he and Marvin deliver. A day or two later, Sister Mary Philomena has been brutally murdered, with even worse to come.
Author John Guzlowski does an excellent job describing how Hank and Marvin move forward on the case, navigating all its ramifications, personal and political. These actions are balanced with their attempts to locate Hank’s daughter, Margaret, who has gone missing. It appears she has hooked up with exactly the kind of people Hank spends his life trying to take off the streets. Any parent will understand the helplessness and desperation Hank and his wife Hazel feel as Margaret slips inexorably from their grasp. Hazel counsels understanding, but Hank has seen the results of this downward slide too many times to take the warning signs lightly.
Hank and Marvin have been partners for many years and, in any situation, the relationship between them settles into established grooves. Both suffer the PTSD-like effects of their military service and their years in the Chicago Police Department. Marvin drinks on the job and tends to be violent, and Hank isn’t a by-the-book cop either. Their relationship is believable and nuanced and, at times, humourous. They aren’t surprised when the powers-that-be try to put a lid on their investigation.
The pair are trying to resolve not one, but two compelling dilemmas: they’re clearly outraged by the evidence of child abuse among the clergy, but, while they’re trying to save the world’s altar boys, what about Hank’s own child, beset by a whole different class of predator? Hank’s wife Hazel is a useful foil for the two detectives, pressing for handling Margaret’s situation differently. But it seems there are no right answers; each course of action threatens consequences more chilling than the wind blasting off Lake Michigan.
Guzlowski is an award-winning author who has been nominated for two Pulitzer Prizes and five Pushcart literary prizes for work published in small presses. No surprise, then, that the writing of this book is especially fine. First, there’s the grounding in real events. (In a Q&A provided by the book publicist, Guzlowski says, “In my parish when I was a child, there were five priests. Three were pedophiles.”) He arrived in the United States in 1951, the son of Polish slave labourers in Nazi Germany. They relocated to Chicago, and his evocation of the city, which long clung to its strong ethnic neighborhoods, is spot-on.
Little Altar Boy is a book that never takes the easy way out, and Guzlowski doesn’t arrange events for a tidy, Hollywood-style ending. Instead, what he writes is true to his characters in a way that will draw you in, tight.

Sunday, June 28, 2020

Happy Birthday to Me

Happy Birthday to Me

There's an old cliche that I hear more and more as I grow older. Supposedly it started with the American actress Bette Davis, but I'm pretty sure the cliche was around long before that. People are always telling me that "Growing old ain't for sissies."

Like with most cliches, there's definitely some truth to it.

I remember the first time I became aware of what it must be like being old. I was twelve years old. My parents had invited a friend of theirs over for dinner. My mom and dad had known this guy ever since we came to America as DPs after the war. He was our neighbor, a Polish American who emigrated here just before the First World War. The night I remember when I first became aware of old age, he was in his late 60s, and after dinner he and my parents were sitting in the living room talking about old times. At some point, he excused himself and tried to stand up to go to the bathroom, but he couldn't stand up. His knees for some reason had given out, and he needed a hand from my dad and me to help him out of his chair.

I couldn't believe it. I had known this guy for years, and he always struck me as a bull of a man, large and strong and tough. In fact in his early twenties he had been a boxer, a fighter. He loved to talk about the fights he fought, the punishment to his body he overcame over and over. And suddenly, there he was, sitting in an easy chair in our living room and struggling to lift himself up.

I remember afterwards asking my dad why his friend couldn't stand up, and I remember my dad saying in Polish, "That's what happens when you get old."

I've just turned 72, and I'm beginning at last to understand what my dad meant.

My left knee is busted. My hearing aids hear more than I do. My blurry eyes can't focus. My feet are floppy. My heart is ruined. My sex drive only runs in reverse. My sense of balance is unbalanced. My sleep is broken up every night by 3 or 4 toilet trips. My voice goes in and out. My memory doesn't remember yesterday. My face is my father's. Finally, I'm an old man!

But there are things at 72 that I can still do. I can still sing the songs I love. I can still read. I can still swim and argue and joke. I can still hug and kiss the people I truly love, my wife, my daughter, and my granddaughter. And I can still do the things I love: I can eat a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, look at the clouds, and dream about tomorrow.

My latest column for the Dziennik Zwiazkowy.

Tuesday, June 9, 2020

Protests and Riots

Growing up in Chicago in the late 1960s, I felt that the world was always on the edge of protests and riots.  

This feeling started in 1966 when I was 18 years old and living just east of Humboldt Park.  One day early in June, Mayor Richard J. Daley announced there was going to be a week-long celebration of Puerto Rican culture and people.  It turned into a riot on Division Street that lasted 3 days.  I remember squad cars and sirens everywhere and cops threatening to beat us if we didn’t stay in our homes.  

Less than two years later, Martin Luther King’s assasination sparked a series of riots on the Southside that resulted in 11 deaths, 500 injuries, and more than 2,100 arrests in two days of rioting.  Five months later, there were the Democratic Convention riots, and two years after that the Kent State killings where the National Guard’s killing of four students fueled riots on college campuses all over the city.  These, of course, weren’t the only protests and riots in Chicago.  These were just the big ones.

I was involved with some of these protests.  Starting in 1966, I actively protested against the Vietnam War.  I marched and picketed, and once I even rioted.  

Most of the time, these protests were peaceful.  We would gather at Grant Park and listen to speakers telling us how wrong the war was, or we would march up State Street with signs that said no more war.  But sometimes the protests became violent.  

Why did they become violent?  Sometimes, they became violent as a response to cops being violent.  One time, we were picketing the University of Illinois’ ROTC building at the corner of Halsted and Roosevelt, and the cops there started breaking windows on the first floor of the building with their billy clubs. Some of the protesters ran to safety, others started throwing rocks and bricks at the cops, breaking even more windows.  

I'm not saying the cops are always to blame.  I also saw protesters become rioters without any kind of provocation, breaking windows, throwing rocks, starting fires.  Why did they become rioters?  I think they were people who wanted violence.  I knew some of these rioters.  The protest was just an excuse to be violent for them.  

After the 1968 Martin Luther King riots, the City of Chicago set up a committee to look into the riots.  One of the things they determined was that one of the causes of the riots was “a spontaneous overflow of pent-up aggressions.”

That statement comes close to summing up what I learned from my years of protesting.  I learned the majority of the protesters and a majority of the police officers understood why they were there.  The protestors wanted you to know that something in our society is not right, and the police officers wanted the protesters to know that protesting is okay up to a certain point.  I learned also that there’s a minority of protesters and police officers who wanted to express their “pent-up aggression.”  They wanted to throw bricks and burn things and bust heads and shoot tear gas because it made them feel alive.

These are the people we need to watch out for.