Throughout the pandemic, I, like many others, found myself overwhelmed and depressed by constantly “doom scrolling” the news of what’s going on in the world every day. As a result, I tried to read more fiction to distract myself. One of my favorite new books that I read this past year is Nowhere Fast, a self-published collection of short stories by Chicago-based writer Meaghan Garvey.
While Garvey is based on the North Side, the excellent tales can be enjoyed by Chicagoans all along the Lake Michigan coastline. I highly recommend it for fans of Sam Pink, Mary Robison’s Why Did I Ever, Amanda Goldblatt’s Hard Mouth, Ken Lane’s Desert Oracle, and of course Garvey’s own Substack newsletter of essays and fiction, SCARY COOL SAD GOODBYE.
Her own description of the collection is that the stories are “about bars and such,” which is very true. In a time where bars were closed, this book was the perfect read for everyone who missed hanging out at Chicago’s many great dive bars such as Garvey’s personal favorite, the Lighthouse. The nautical-themed Rogers Park bar populated by many interesting old folks serves as a well of many great stories and great names, like Scotty Motown, Big Hillbilly Carl, and Seaweed Charlie.
As Garvey describes, “It’s on the beach and everyone’s nuts there.”
The story titled “Seaweed Charlie” might be my favorite of the bunch, but they’re all enjoyable. Although “Seaweed Charlie” involves many of my favorite things: the Lighthouse and its characters and substances, journalism, cemeteries, writing to someone in prison, a heartbreak story, and a ghost story involving a pilot who crashed into Lake Michigan, whose ghost Garvey would come to call, yes, Seaweed Charlie.
I don’t want to give away too much about these short stories, because they really just need to be read on their own. Garvey writes a lot of devastatingly beautiful passages throughout the collection, and some of the best writing comes when she writes about music, which makes sense because she is also a music journalist. In addition, there are three great “Untitled Quar Poems” dispersed between the short stories that are essentially just very short stories themselves, but with even more humor.
Overall, Nowhere Fast is an excellent collection that makes for an especially great post-pandemic summer read.
A portion of “Seaweed Charlie” in the Weekly follows, reprinted with permission. To purchase the whole collection, go to mgmmgm.bigcartel.com.
All the guys at the Lighthouse were sick of hearing me talk about Seaweed Charlie, but that was just too bad for them. It was bordering on mania, the way I’d taken to asking everyone at the bar if they’d seen him around lately. As usual nobody had, and I was getting the sense that people were starting to question my soundness of mind. Well, perhaps I was losing the plot just a touch, getting into adrenochrome conspiracies and habitually popping truckdriver drugs I’d bought in bulk on the dark web, but that was nobody’s business. Anyway, the stupid love of my life had left me for a beautiful stripper and here I was, geeked up on trucker speed and roaming the streets of the north side all night, looking for a goddamned ghost.
I can’t remember exactly which internet k-hole I’d found my way into the night I discovered Seaweed Charlie; you know those nights when it’s four am and you’re on pills and you simply refuse to sleep until you’ve thoroughly researched the ghost lore of the Civil War-era cemetery down the street? Just where the northern edge of Chicago meets the lakeshore, there’s Calvary Cemetery, home, allegedly, to 218,000 denizens of the afterlife. I like to walk through it from time to time, taking stupid little photos of cool headstones and listening to the waves slap the breakwater. Dum tacet clamat, said a headstone I liked the other day that was shaped like a tree stump. Though Silent, He Speaks.
There’s a four-lane road that separates the cemetery from the lakefront, which I’ve nearly died crossing at least twenty times. Anyhow, back in the fifties, people started to see something strange out in the lake as they passed, a drowning figure maybe forty yards out. Except that he wasn’t drowning. They watched the man, tall and thin and dripping with algae, climb slowly over the breakwater rocks and stagger across the street towards the wrought iron gate of the cemetery, then disappear. For decades since there’ve been dozens of sightings of the same man dragging himself across the road, all of them after dark. Sometimes passing cars have had to swerve so as not to hit the guy. Other times there’ll be a trail of wet footprints from the lake to the cemetery, littered with flotsam and bits of seaweed.
Well, wouldn’t you know it? On May 4, 1951, the front page of the Tribune read, “Hundreds See Jet Hit Lake; Pilot Missing.” This was the McDonnell FH-1 Phantom of one Lt. Laverne F. Nabours, a thirty year old navy veteran and instructor at the Glenview Naval Air Station, seven miles north of the cemetery. Students at Northwestern had watched the one-seater jet crash into the water in a training exercise gone wrong; a “double flame-out,” the Tribune called it, whatever that meant. Witnesses said that the plane sank slowly, that the pilot climbed up on the wing and waved for help. When it didn’t come he started swimming, two hundred yards out. The plane washed up two days later next to Calvary Cemetery. Laverne F. Nabours did not.
Some ghost hunters on the internet refer to the man who crawls out of the lake as “The Aviator.” Me, I prefer Seaweed Charlie. The name makes me feel like he’s one of my bar friends, like Scotty Motown and Johnny Super Eight and Big Hillbilly Carl.
“What’s up with this Seaweed Charlie thing of yours, anyways?” asked Mike the plumber, leaning on the bar to watch cars circle around a racetrack over and over again on the TV. “You finally run out of felons to date or what?”
“Ouch.” I sipped my Hamm’s, brewed in the land of the sky blue waters. “Hey man, I’m just doing a little journalism. Chasin the big story. Whatever. I don’t know.” I was going through some things.
Bobby Vanecko is a contributor to the Weekly. He is a law student at Loyola University Chicago. He last wrote an open letter to his family about being a Daley.