I could have sworn he just gave you money, a stack of money rubber-banded together. Nobody just gave you a stack of money?
I dropped that. He gave it back to me. Besides, it wasn’t a stack of money. Only the top of the stack was money, and that was only a $2 bill.
You dropped a stack of money-shaped paper that was topped by a $2 bill, and a total stranger found it on the ground and gave it back to you. How does your honesty inform your writing?
Since I write fiction, I find that I don’t need to be honest. People expect lies when they read fiction, and I’m more than happy to oblige. If they wanted truth, they’d live alone and have mirrors on every wall. Nothing more truthful than that.
True. The title of your new book is Chicago Stories: 40 Dramatic Fictions. You’ve got the word “Fiction” in the title.
It’s actually the subtitle.
Noted. But we’ve covered the “Fictions” part–what’s so dramatic about your work?
People love. People lose. People live. People die. It pretty much covers the entire human experience, save happiness, which doesn’t fall under the umbrella of “dramatic.” Had I subtitled it “40 Comedic Fictions,” I would have included happiness. Otherwise, I cover the human experience completely.
You could have had a mix. Are you averse to comedy?
Not at all. I see the comedy in everything. I just can’t relay it in writing form, or for that matter, interview form. In person, though, it’s my strongest emotion, happiness. No, check that: elation. Elation is my strongest emotion, but only in person.
Getting back to the money-shaped pile of paper, why do you have that?
Because that guy gave it to me.
But you said … never mind. Why Chicago?
I’m from Chicago.
But haven’t you actually lived inside the city limits for only five months? Aren’t you from the suburbs? Or more prominently, Ohio?
I was born in Chicago. There were those handful of days in addition to the other five months, but they were definitive days.
Fair enough. What’s your favorite neighborhood in the city? Is it Lakeview? Your bio says you work at Wrigley Field as a beer vendor.
I like the lake. I try to spend a lot of time there. As they say, it’s cooler near it.
Lake Michigan isn’t a neighborhood.
Is that what it’s called? Well, it should be a neighborhood. It’s the best place in the city, hands down. I’d live there.
Nobody lives there. It can’t be a neighborhood if no one lives there, by definition. Ravenswood is nice. Have you been there?
Yeah, that one, then. Sure. Ravensville. Lots of great restaurants. Good place to raise kids. No lake, but solid soil, good schools there.
Okay, time to finish up: If you could live one Chicagoan’s life, whose would you live?
It would definitely be Sean Combs, aka Puff Daddy, aka P. Diddy, aka Diddy. I’ve always admired him for what he’s been able to accomplish as a producer, performer, actor, and humanitarian. He also is a successful entrepreneur and has a wonderful family. Doesn’t everyone want to be Sean Combs?
Sean Combs isn’t from Chicago.
I know that. But if I’m imagining me living someone else’s life, being another human being, which is impossible, couldn’t we imagine Sean Combs growing up in Chicago? You defined the rules when you asked your question. I was only playing within them. I want to be Sean Combs.
That should about wrap things up. How far is the Brown line from here?
Take the bus instead–stop’s right there on the corner. The El is $2.25, and remember, we only have that $2.
Michael Czyzniejewski is the author of two story collections, Elephants in Our Bedroom (Dzanc Books, 2009) and Chicago Stories: 40 Dramatic Fictions (Curbside Splendor, 2012), and a recipient of a fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts. After many years at Bowling Green State University serving as Editor of Mid-American Review, he is now Assistant Professor of Creative Writing at Missouri State University.
Photo Credit: Jacob S. Knabb